Wondering what the future holds for our cities? There is one thing we can be fairly sure of: Almost 70 % of the world’s population will live in urban environments by 2050, according to the UN. What urban planners still need to figure out, however, is how to ensure the well-being of these increasingly urban citizens. This calls for open governance, where transparent and free-to-use data is made accessible to citizens, making them feel part of a greater project. “Citizens are growing tired of voting on decisions that have already been taken. They want to actively contribute and share ideas, to help shape the city they live in,” explains Ms Veneta Ivanova, Project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD and coordinator of the EU-funded project smarticipate (smart services for calculated impact assessment in open governance) project. This need has already given rise to various online tools enabling participative democracy. However, there is one main problem these tools have yet to address: the lack of a solution allowing citizens to get a preview of proposed projects. Smarticipate fills this gap while enabling participative democracy within a single platform. It allows citizens, NGOs, businesses and public administrations to suggest projects, provides 2D and 3D models, and enables instigators to share their views and receive feedback in real time. As technical leader of the project, Fraunhofer IGD provided expertise in handling and visualising geospatial data. “Citizens are able to not only comment on ongoing plans, but also make their own proposals and see them come to life in 2D or 3D. From there on, a real-time feedback service provides feedback on proposals’ feasibility and fosters transparency,” says Ivanova. “Our open data retrieval system also allows fast and easy access for citizens and other stakeholders.” In other words, smarticipate avoids situations where a public administration would bring a project to fruition only to see it dismissed and challenged by local inhabitants. They can make proposals based on participatory planning scenarios (urban stories) and provide feedback. Public administrations can then decide on the feasibility of the proposal. Pilots for the topics of urban gardening, 3D building planning and tree planting have been developed for Rome, London and Hamburg. The three cities are already considering the inclusion of smarticipate in their own plans for participative democracy. In Hamburg, for example, city representatives and the smarticipate consortium are currently looking into ways to integrate the project’s feedback service into the city’s own system for participative democracy. Now that the project has been completed, Fraunhofer IGD and other consortium members are considering commercialisation. They have already approached additional cities such as Vienna, and the creation of a spin-off company is being discussed. “Detailed market analysis is taking place,” says Ivanova. “We are in the process of identifying lead customers and making contact. In addition, the team is looking for financial resources to set up the spin-off company and intends to finalise the product development within a year.” Smarticipate will be offered as a generic platform – including a test version of the three topics already developed – with the option of further licensing. Customers can either implement one of these apps, adjust them and adapt the user interface, or create a new app altogether. “We provide clients with the opportunity to plug in additional topics. They can either develop these topics themselves, collaborate with smart implementers, or ask the smarticipate team to take care of development,” Ivanova concludes.
Smarticipate, open governance, smart city, urban planning