People - Competences - Collaborations

Opening event of the "Urban Innovation Forum"From herd intelligence to the collaborative city

On 17 June, the Urban Innovation Forum was launched at the Impact Hub Ruhr in Essen - an initiative of JUS cooperating closely with the Initiativkreis Ruhr. Representatives from urban design, citizens' initiatives, science and the start-up scene discussed "people - competences - collaborations" for the city. The next forum is scheduled for September.  

The first Urban Innovation Forum took place in the basement of the Impact Hub Ruhr in Essen on 17 June. The initiative of the Joint Centre Urban Systems (JUS) of the University of Duisburg-Essen is a permanent platform that brings together people from different subfields of urban design at different locations with other interested parties and invites them to talk about the current challenges of urban space. For the kick-off, JUS Executive Director Klaus Krumme invited five guests to the podium: Dr. Anette Bickmeyer, Executive Director of Initiativkreis Ruhr GmbH, Prof. Dr. Frederik Ahlemann, holder of the JUS Chair of Information Systems and Strategic IT Management, Svenja Noltemeyer, board member of die Urbanisten e. V., Martina Nies, Executive Director of herdenintelligenz - co-creative project development and consulting, and Ulrike Trenz, co-founder and Executive Director of Impact Hub Ruhr.  

Krumme opened by explaining that the event title "People-Competences-Collaborations" had been deliberately chosen as an impulse to the overarching theme of the Essener Wissenschaftssommer "Smart City": Because what is the smart city actually? Is it technologies or people that make a city "smart"? And what is the ideal image of a collaborative city? So the forum started no-tech, with people and the form of intelligence it requires. For example, guest Martina Nies brought "herd intelligence" into the discussion round, for which each individual brings their strength to the community and which is also transferable to the urban design level. In her work in sustainable urban development, however, Nies often asks herself how to involve people who do not have the stamina to be regular and active in a citizens' initiative.

Meanwhile, Anette Bickmeyer is working at full speed on behalf of the entrepreneurial interest group Initiativkreis Ruhr to make the district of Duisburg-Hochfeld more liveable. The ambitious project is being carried out under the name "Urbane Zukunft Ruhr" (Urban Future Ruhr) together with the city of Duisburg. A special challenge is to win the citizens for this process instead of shaping it from above. The new lead project of the Initiativkreis Ruhr does not follow a rigid master plan, but will concretise its sub-projects in the process. Bickmeyer is convinced that as long as the citizens of Hochfeld perceive, help shape and maintain positive changes, it will have been worth the work. 

Die Urbanisten in Dortmund choose a different approach: here, people are brought together with others and sometimes "transformed" primarily through community projects, e.g. "quite mundanely" through community gardens, according to Svenja Noltemeyer. In the case of Die Urbanisten, collaborations arise primarily through work in the neighbourhood, especially with other culturally active and creative people in the Unionviertel in Dortmund.

Ulrike Trenz, a guest at her own Impact Hub, and her team are primarily following the start-up scene in the area of "social entrepreneurship" when it comes to the question of the collaborative city, i.e. business ideas that are not only economically viable but also have a positive social-ecological impact. The motto here is "just do it", i.e. have the courage to change, sometimes make mistakes and grow in the process.

This mentality is not present everywhere: In his many years of work with municipalities, Frederik Ahlemann particularly brought up the lack of competence of the employees in municipal politics and administration: there is a lack of knowledge and understanding to really tackle the big challenges of the coming years. In a way, this has created an innovation backlog. The necessary "cultural change" could also become a task of the universities, according to Ahlemann. In general - and in unison, the discussion shifted to the question of education: from schoolchildren to trained city administrators - there is great pressure to support and promote the decision-makers of today and tomorrow in order to build and maintain a liveable city community. It was self-evident to all panellists that this could not be achieved through conventional teaching methods or continuing education certificates. Perhaps it might help to understand that such initiatives cannot be purely ideological, but can also be economically sustainable, said Nies.