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Designing Sustainable Urban Futures

Marius Albiez
Gerhard Banse
Kenyon C. Lindeman
et al.

1. Framework

Current Challenges of Sustainable Urban Development

Kerstin Gothe

Texte intégral

1This article focuses on the sustainable development of urban spaces and the challenges from the perspective of an urban planner who is interested in a particular district for analysis, assessment and action. As has been extensively discussed, there are three challenges of urban development and strategies to address them.

1 The Context of this Article

  1. Resources and energy supplies are limited. Cities can be seen not only as huge raw material deposits, but also as deposits of other features including water, energy, etc. (e.g., “grey energy”). There are several strategies to reduce these material flows: the principles of Reduce, Re-use, Recycle or Cradle to Cradle approaches being the most fundamental ones.
  2. Urban agglomerations are made more and more vulnerable by extreme climate occurrences (heat stress, storms, floods, or droughts). The overall focus must therefore be placed on developing strategies aiming to make cities more resilient by adapting to climate change. The concept of “green and sustainable cities” represents a valuable opportunity to achieve an increased urban resilience and also to improve the quality of life of residents. Cities must be strategically protected and improved.
  3. Urban regeneration needs to be managed and financed – this is the key to achieve the first two strategies. Stakeholders must be included in this process. Conflicting goals, i.e., between competing uses of limited resources, have to be solved as has historically been the case with cities. Today urban citizens have more opportunities than ever to be involved in decisions that affect their daily lives and environment (cf. BMBF 2015).

2Strategies for “integrated urban governance” intending to find holistic and interdisciplinary solutions to existing challenges have to be found. New forms of cooperation and financing are necessary and technical solutions must be embedded in societal contexts. The “Quarter of the Future” and the activities of the ITAS (Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis) are working on these questions, as well as urban planners such as those in Karlsruhe, to further the discussion of the spatial vision for the city (cf. SPAK 2015).

2 Actual Trends with Influence on the Development of Cities

3But there are not only difficulties: we can we also identify actual trends that help to solve these problems:

  1. The renaissance of the urban lifestyle or re-urbanisation;
  2. The multimodality and changes in mobility patterns: the trend to organise daily life with different means of transportation, even without a car.

4I want to build on these trends as a basis for developing a new trend: the rise of the Interactive City, with particular reference to the concept of the “Sharing City”, presenting emerging trends in Germany as well as in the international context using examples from Seoul, South Korea.

2.1 The Renaissance of the Urban Lifestyle, or Re-Urbanisation

5In Germany life in cities is becoming more attractive – this is true for big cities as well as for smaller cities, which serve as regional centres. In light of demographic change, new urban lifestyles and cultural and creative industries contributing to re-urbanisation can be identified:

  • Demographic change: Elderly populations are growing and the number of single and two person households is increasing. Younger people flock to the cities for educational reasons and often end up staying.
  • New urban lifestyles: The urban lifestyle is increasingly attractive even for families. The role of women in society has changed: for example, women stay employed even when their children are small. The ever-expanding local urban supply of health, culture, childcare, education and entertainment services support changes in family patterns. Working parents follow strict time regimes and they now prefer shorter commutes to work places. Many people may no longer rely on a car.
  • Cultural and creative industries and a knowledge-based service economy in the cities are drivers of economic growth resulting from:
    • post-industrial values: people work more flexibly, independent of time and place;
    • new working conditions: conjunctions/intersections of work and private life;
    • short-term employment relationships: therefore it is important to have access to labour-markets (cf. Kunzmann 2012).
  • Urban life becomes more attractive:
    • urban lifestyle/“urban age”: “urban” and “metro” are becoming fashionable trends;
    • inner city living is seen as an alternative to single house with a garden (cf. Herfert/Osterhage 2012);
    • a great variety of housing typologies is emerging as well as the desire for events, urban atmosphere and new forms of sociability (cf. Kunzmann 2012).

6The urban renaissance and re-urbanisation will conceivably remain one of the dominant leading trends.

7As in many European and American cities, the growth of Germany’s cities was connected for decades to suburbanisation: the suburbs grew faster than the city. Private households, but also industrial, retail and service businesses withdrew to the edge of the city or beyond. Since 2000 there has been a trend reversal towards re-urbanisation (cf. Herfert/Osterhage 2012, p. 95).

8Re-urbanization can be described statistically: the growth of the surrounding region of the cities slows, and the core of the city grows faster than the surrounding region, both in terms of households and employment opportunities. The city core is often revitalised through private and public building investments (“Urban Renaissance”). Conversions and brownfield developments offer new construction opportunities.

9Since 2004 inner city populations in Germany have been increasing, much more than in suburban areas. Very few Western German city regions (Reutlingen, Lübeck) continue to show suburban growth and dwindling city centres. Re-urbanisation is mainly based on migration gains of the city centres (cf. Herfert/Osterhage 2012, pp. 100ff.).

10However, re-urbanisation presents itself differently in the various parts of Germany:

  • Type I (example: Munich) – relative centralisation: The population has grown significantly in the city core and only slightly in the region.
  • Type II (example: Düsseldorf) – absolute centralisation: The population has grown in the city core and decreased in the region.
  • Type III (example: Kassel) – relative centralisation: The population in the city core has decreased, but less so than in the region.
  • Type IV (example: Wilhelmshaven) – deurbanisation: People migrate to more prosperous city regions; population in the city core continues to decrease faster than in the region (cf. Herfert/Osterhage 2012, p. 100).

11Re-urbanisation in Eastern Germany (type III) is predominantly caused by interregional migrations which have taken place since 2005. The population stays in the inner cities instead of moving away, there is a population influx from inside the federal state.

2.2 The Decline of Car Traffic, Multimodality

12For the first time in the history of motorisation the number of cars is declining. This presents new opportunities for urban spaces and the reduction of energy consumption and CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions.

13Each mode of transport has its own ideal urban range, e.g. pedestrians up to one kilometre, cyclists up to three kilometres. Multimodal users know how to combine them. Instead of a universally applicable solution like a car, multiple means of transport are combined to complement each other’s strengths. Younger people especially have been using multimodal transportation in recent years, because new forms of mobility are introduced and supported financially by way of student ticket prices, and because the car is less of a status symbol than it once was; also, shared or rental cars are easy accessible; and the car is becoming less attractive for commuting and long-distance travel. Multimodal behaviour requires complex strategies and planning routes in advance. Smartphones and mobile internet greatly support this.

14The new multimodals organise their life without their own car. Multimodality can be supported by simplifying the switching of modes (e.g. bicycle and tram) and offers like call-a-bike, car sharing or Car2Go, combined with attractively positioned, clearly visible parking options for shared vehicles (cf. Chlond 2013; Streit et al. 2014).

3 Thinking about the Role of the “Sharing City” or “Interactive City”

15The Interactive City is mostly discussed in the context of the link between urban infrastructures that until now typically operated separately. Linking infrastructures brings new opportunities: communications technology in “smart cities” link mobility, energy supply (power, gas, water and heating), sewage, as well as waste management.

16I want to focus on the following questions: Can a “sharing culture” make cities more sustainable? Do sharing cities find new ways of using urban space? Are they changing relationships with private-space resources? Are they changing social urban life?

17The idea of sharing is not new. “Parks and green spaces in cities have always existed as shared spaces. Libraries share books. Public transport is a shared method for getting around. But the advent of digital communications facilitates sharing in a way never seen before” (Childs 2014). The sharing city gets fresh impulses by new technological developments such as 3D printing, robotics, and the continued expansion of the digital economy.

18Examples of sharing initiatives include: car-sharing, bike-sharing, shared housing, shared jobs, shared offices, tool sharing, shared ownership of energy generation, local currencies, shared green space for relaxation or growing food, even shared dogs. The goal of the Sharing City is to create jobs or to increase incomes, to address environmental issues, to reduce unnecessary consumption and waste, and to recover trust-based relationships between people.

19Sharing could make the difference for the urban space, because it leads to increased resource efficiency, it makes better use of the limited capacity of space and even raises money for urban regeneration projects. Furthermore, strategic benefits for the society could flow from the development of a Sharing City, because it creates active communities and social cohesion, it helps provide support for the weakest in society and enables them to access services and opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Sharing can also foster technological development, because it grabs hold of technological developments and uses them for the common good; it builds a community of people who can collaborate in further developing and shape them; it creates a culture of innovation and can also help keep economies local, making them more resilient to global change. In many cases sharing has more than one purpose (cf. Childs 2014).

4 Practice of Sharing City-Projects

20In this section, I want to characterize some examples of Sharing City-Projects, the first four examples are in Germany, the latter from abroad.

  • 1 Cf. http://www.mä [11.12.2013].

21Damage reporter (Mängelmelder) is a website and application for smartphones that reports requests from users such as repairing a bench in the city and gives feedback to the user about the repair.1

  • 2 Cf. [11.12.201].

22Void reporter (Leerstandsmelder) is a website for reporting unused properties in cities with additional information. It delivers services about articles of related themes or events involving unused properties. It started in the city of Hamburg 2011 from initiatives under the architect Michael Ziehl. By 2013 it had spread to thirteen German cities.2

23New uses for private and public properties: “BetweenTimeCentral-Office Bremen” (ZwischenZeitZentrale Bremen): The users search suitable properties for temporary uses and provide advice for property owners, develop concepts with other users and follow the projects. A win-win situation can occur for all engaged parties: the users obtain rooms for a low price, the houses are used and maintained, and vandalism is avoided. It is run through “Autonomes Architektur Atelier GbR (Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts, Society of Civic Rights)”.

  • 3 Cf. [12.12.2013].

24New uses for private and public properties: “Temporary Space corporation” (Raum auf Zeit) was founded in 2006 and develops temporary use concepts for offices and atelier flats for start-ups in favourable locations in good condition. The target objects are business offices in central locations which have stood empty for the short or long term due to their condition.3

25Bringing up new ideas for cities financed by crowd-funding: Spacehive. This platform was developed by Chris Gourlay in London in 2011. It organises crowdfunding for civic projects in communities: local citizens share their ideas to improve their community, such as organizing quality green spaces, new sports infrastructure or a thorough extension of a main street. “Design professionals” propose the project ideas to attract enough crowdfunding directly to the municipality.

  • 4 Cf. [05.05.2014].

26An example: Conversion of a concrete flyover into an urban park for Liverpool: “a vibrant place full of life, trees, shops, exhibitions & joy”. “We don’t feel it’s right to spend £ 3-4 million (for the demolition of the flyover) and see nothing in return, so we used our design talent to propose something different.”4 The idea is to create “a new way for pedestrians and cyclists to connect to the heritage quarter of the city, to develop a programme of live cultural events in partnership with the many creative agencies in the city and to provide spaces for small independent businesses to develop and trade.” They are hoping to create a new trust to manage and maintain the structure.

  • 5 Cf. [11.12.2015].

27Intensification of parking space usage (Park IT): This website and application for smartphones were developed in 2011 from a collaboration between Startup@UZH (University of Zürich), the Schweizer Bundesbahn (Swiss Federal Railways) and private firms. It is an interactive platform that allows Swiss citizens to share private parking lots. The participants pay monthly for their parking over smartphones with a credit card.5

28New uses for Parking Places: Parklets in San Francisco. This project has been ongoing since 2009, initiated from the San Francisco Planning Department in the USA. It is part of the Pavement to Parks program. Public and private actors are working together: merchants, community organizations or residents submit a proposal and get a permit for a parklet, if possible. The program facilitates the conversion of utilitarian spaces in the street into publicly accessible open spaces. Its aims are to improve the aesthetics of the streetscape, to find economic solutions for creating more public open space, to foster vitality and activity for the streets, and to support the diversity and creativity of the people. The larger purpose is to encourage walking and biking to strengthen the communities, and to support local business communities. Amenities like seating, gardens and art are provided. Within three years (from 2010 to 2013) 38 parklets have been installed (cf. SFPD 2013).

  • 6 Cf. [01.04.2014].
  • 7 Cf. [11.12.2013].

29Flexibility and regulations for underutilized spaces: Space Noah and Dr. Noah Dental Clinic in Seoul, South Korea. Space Noah was a preliminary project that created new co-working space and opened in December 2012.6 Space Cloud converted an empty property in inner-city Seoul into a multi-use space, providing coworking spaces such as seminar rooms, a media lab, and a connecting hall with café facilities. The Space Cloud service was launched due to the high demand for multi-use spaces.7 The supply and demand for space are connected according to desired uses, rent prices and space capacities.

  • 8 Cf. [11.12.2013].

30Social interconnections in neighbourhoods: Knock Knock Library in Seoul. The idea is to provide a large number of bedtime books for toddlers and babies in every household through organising a library system in a neighbourhood. The project applies the self-contained character of “Tanji”, using web-based and phone platforms for intercommunication. The benefits include the exchange of knowledge among early youth such as hand skills (e.g., wrapping books or making ribbons) or learning foreign languages.8

5 Discussion of the Sharing City concept in Seoul

31In this last section, I summarize some thoughts about the impact of the Sharing City in Seoul and the expectations for a more sustainable city.

32Challenges faced by the City of Seoul are overpopulation and the impacts of urbanisation: therefore the city must confront the lack of housing, transportation and parking shortages, pollution, and resource overuse. Mayor Park Won-soon has a history of social activism and innovative problem-solving and brought the idea of the Sharing City from San Francisco to Seoul. While it was more a grassroots movement in San Francisco, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is actively working to create a culture of sharing (for the following cf. Johnson 2014).

33Seoul supports the Sharing City through the following activities:

  • Encouragement and nurturing of sharing: Sharing enterprises are promoted citywide in order to strengthen the public’s perception of the Sharing City as something that crosses demographic boundaries.
  • Development and implementation of a strategic vision: A comprehensive plan “encompasses public awareness, business incubation, new regulation, and mobilization of the city’s underutilized assets” – sharing non-profits and corporations are vetted and designated. “By putting the city’s stamp of approval on select sharing services, the city builds the public’s trust in the sharing economy.”
  • Removal of barriers to the development of sharing: Officials are also working to correct obstructive statutes or systems, and facilitate communication between sharing enterprises and the central government. The Social Innovation Division will handle sharing-related civilian proposals and requests.
  • Investment in sharing enterprises: The City of Seoul subsidizes “the expenses of 10 sharing enterprises with 250 million won (U.S. $ 240,000; EUR 180,000). Providing 10 sharing enterprises with the funding to either launch or scale up their platform gives the enterprises a bit of financial breathing room to focus on building or enhancing their service. [...] Incubating approximately 20 sharing startups with office space, consultation, and subsidies. Providing space, guidance and some funding to sharing startups will allow businesses to take their service to the next level and the city to support innovative ideas and thinkers” (Johnson 2014).
  • Promotion of the Sharing City: Branding Seoul as one of the great cities for sharing is a powerful way to attract international attention, accelerate the city’s sharing economy and position the city as a forward-thinking hub of innovation. “Creating a Seoul Sharing Promotion Committee made up of representatives from a variety of sectors including academic, legal, press, welfare, transportation and more. Having a team of representatives from numerous sectors who are all on board with the Sharing City plan is a good way to extend the reach of the sharing economy, make sure that it’s being promoted appropriately in the various sectors and ensure that sharing is part of the discussion when decisions within those sectors are being made.” Creating an International Sharing City Conference “further brands Seoul as an innovative locale and provides other municipalities from around the world a chance to see a sharing city plan in action” (Johnson 2014).

34But a sharing economy cannot be imposed upon a city. Participation in developing, enacting and owning the plan is as obvious as it is critical. And cities themselves need significant autonomy from national governments to develop this agenda. “Building a sharing economy is a strategic response to actual challenges, turning them around and using them as an opportunity to build a socially cohesive and environmentally sustainable future” (Johnson 2014). The future will show whether sharing economies are important for the usage of urban space, and whether they are changing the relationships among private space-resources and urban social life.

35We will see whether sharing economies will have full opportunities to improve prospects for sustainable urban development.



BMBF – Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (ed.) (2015): Die Zukunftsstadt – CO2-neutral, energie-/ressourceneffizient, klimaangepasst und sozial. Langfassung der Strategischen Forschungs- und Innovationsagenda (FINA). Berlin (BMBF, Referat Nachhaltigkeit, Klima, Energie) (in German)

Childs, M. (2014): Seoul: Can a “Sharing Culture” Make Cities More Sustainable? – URL: [05.05.2014]

Chlond, B. (2013): Multimodal unterwegs – Überlegungen für eine gesamtheitliche Planung unseres Verkehrssystems. Lecture. Karlsruhe (Institut für Verkehrswesen am KIT) (non-published)

Herfert, G.; Osterhage, F. (2012): Wohnen in der Stadt: Gibt es eine Trendwende zur Reurbanisierung? In: Brake, K.; Herfert, G. (eds.): Reurbanisierung. Materialität und Diskurs in Deutschland. Wiesbaden, pp. 86–112 (in German)

Johnson, C. (2014): Is Seoul the Next Great Sharing City? – URL: [05.05.2014]

Kunzmann, K. (2012): Das urbane Pentagon von Konsum, Tourismus, Kultur, Wissen und Kreativwirtschaft. In: Brake, K.; Herfert, G. (eds.): Reurbanisierung. Materialität und Diskurs in Deutschland. Wiesbaden, pp. 151–163 (in German)

SFPD – San Francisco Planning Department (2013): Parklet Manual. Version 1.0. San Francisco/CA

SPAK – Stadtplanungsamt Karlsruhe (ed.) (2015): Auf dem Weg zum Räumlichen Leitbild Karlsruhe. Karlsruhe (in German)

Streit, T.; Chlond, B.; Weiß, C.; Vortisch, P. (2014): Alltagsmobilität und Fahrleistung. In: Deutsches Mobilitätspanel (MOP) – Bericht 2013/14. – URL: [05.05.2015] (in German)


1 Cf. http://www.mä [11.12.2013].

2 Cf. [11.12.201].

3 Cf. [12.12.2013].

4 Cf. [05.05.2014].

5 Cf. [11.12.2015].

6 Cf. [01.04.2014].

7 Cf. [11.12.2013].

8 Cf. [11.12.2013].


Professor Dr.; Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute of Design of City and Landscape, Karlsruhe, Germany;


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