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Designing Sustainable Urban Futures

Marius Albiez
Gerhard Banse
Kenyon C. Lindeman
et al.

2. Research and Development Processes

“District Future – Urban Lab”

A Real Urban Transition Lab

Oliver Parodi, Marius Albiez, Sarah Meyer-Soylu et Colette Waitz

Texte intégral

1 An Initial Overview

  • 1 Cf. In the following, the short form “District Future” is used as a synony (...)

1The sustainable development of our cities is one of the most demanding challenges of the 21st century. The Urban Transition Lab “District Future – Urban Lab”,1 an urban research and development project in and for Karlsruhe, provides the conceptual framework for joint experiments and research on potentially sustainable societal and technological innovations originating from the urban society and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) (cf. Parodi 2011; Parodi et al. 2015).

2Guided by the integrative concept of sustainable development (cf. Kopfmüller et al. 2001), the project works transdisciplinarily towards the mutual stimulation and cooperation of science, politics, citizenry, and the private sector. Always focusing on the global context, this alliance tries out sustainable solutions which shall provide a longterm role model for other, especially European, cities in terms of their quality, number, and concentration. The main objective of this project, which is participatory in nature, is the gradual transformation of Karlsruhe’s Oststadt into a sustainable urban district. In the end, it is about a dense sustainability and about entrenching an actively supported culture of sustainability (cf. Parodi 2010, 2015; Parodi et al. 2011) in the urban space. Other important characteristics of the project are:

  • Sustainable development of the existing district;
  • creating and researching a compact sustainability and exploring interdependencies, synergies, and conflicting goals;
  • scientific public-private partnerships and providing benefits of KIT to the city and region of Karlsruhe
  • establishment of the overall concept of sustainability in urban life; education for sustainable development and the development of new qualities of life;
  • transdisciplinary generation of system, orientation, and transformation knowledge.

3The Urban Transition Lab District Future is designed as a creative platform that provides a framework for numerous concrete projects (“real experiments”) of sustainable urban development. Its multidisciplinary team will continue to develop the urban transition lab over the next years without predetermined outcomes, research and network, co-ordinate and chair project activities in the fields of mobility, housing, social participation, energy, economy, health, culture, work and leisure, education, environmental protection, and life satisfaction.

  • 2 Cf.

4District Future was initiated in 2012, is led by the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis of KIT and is realized in co-operation with numerous actors in Karlsruhe and at the KIT.2

2 The Context: Cities as Necessary Places of Sustainable Development

5For the first time in human history, more people are living in cities than in rural areas – and this share will continue to rise (cf. UN 2014b, p. 7). The share of people living in cities in Asia, Latin America, but also increasingly in the African region, has grown by approximately 30 percent (cf. UN 2014b, p. 8) since the 1950 (compared to the total population). This is also reflected by the large number of metropolises which have emerged over the last 30 years (cf. UN 2014a), especially in China and India. While the urbanization level in these regions increases due to new buildings, a trend towards reurbanization and redensification of existing urban spaces can be observed in Europe (cf. Brake 2011).

6Also central-European cities are confronted with growing challenges: The negative impacts of climate change, demographic change, especially an increasingly aging society, social inequality, and the damage to the environment are some of the challenges that cities have to face today and in the future. In addition, consumer goods and energy have to be imported from the surroundings and from all over the world to satisfy the needs of the urban population. This, in turn, results in huge amounts and a high concentration of waste and emissions (cf. Ackermann 2005). Thus cities themselves become multipliers of crisis and produce effects that go far beyond their city boundaries. Therefore the sustainable development of urban spaces, which implies the concurrent improvement of their resilience, is one of the most urgent challenges of our time.

7Today’s problems and future challenges must not be considered separately in this context since they are always part of larger and complex interrelations in the context of socio-technology, the natural environment, and economics (cf., e.g., WBGU 1996). Demographic change in central-European cities is one of the reasons for the growing demand for barrier-free housing. However, in particular elderly people who are no longer working and only have a low income are often affected by displacement processes (cf. Aehnelt et al. 2009). This is aggravated by the fact that especially elderly people have to suffer from negative aspects of climate change, for example from heat waves during the summer months (cf. Matzarakis 2013). Nevertheless, based on their socio-technical complexity, cities also provide a suitable framework for experiments which will finally – at least potentially – advance systems innovations and a sustainable development (cf. Schneidewind 2014; Schneidewind/Scheck 2013). In addition, cities meet a multitude of needs, combine diversity in a small area (cf. Schneidewind 2014; Schneidewind/Scheck 2013) and thus provide the precondition for social and technological innovations. The urban transition lab District Future wants to update these potentials to transform an existing ward of the city of Karlsruhe into a sustainable one.

3 District Future – Urban Lab: Main Characteristics

8Due to its research nature, the research methods applied, and the transformative purpose, the project sees itself as an urban transition lab and meets the necessary framework conditions (cf. MWK 2013; Schneidewind 2014; Schneidewind/Scheck 2013): Sustainable development is elaborated and implemented in co-design in a transdisciplinary process set for the long term. The researchers of District Future with their dual role also consider themselves as explicit and declared drivers for sustainable development. Depending on the current subject, other relevant disciplines at KIT are involved in the activities of the urban transition lab as well. Level of action is that of the district, the mezzanine between building and city which provides an urban and almost complete microcosm with all its areas of need and life; at the same time the project area remains “manageable for the research process” (Schneidewind 2014, p. 4) without losing the socio-technical complexity that is important for sustainable systems innovations. In addition, we can find specifics (cf. Tiddens 2014) at the district level – e.g. in governance, social vicinity, and regarding the residents’identification with their “quarter”– which are fascinating for the realization of sustainable development, but have not received much attention to date.

9The crucial factor for the success of a dense sustainable development is the (collective, if possible) commitment of a preferably large and diverse group of actors of the urban society, especially of its citizens. Therefore District Future is a platform for co-design in the first place and wants to involve actors of the urban society actively and directly in the research and development process (Citizen Science approach). A comprehensive and integrative sustainable urban development can only succeed if a large number of people contribute to it. Thus District Future thrives on participation, pursues urban development in a collective approach.

Figure 1: With a “Mach mit!” (Join us!) letter all (approx. 7.000) households in the project area were informed of the District Future in 2013 and invited to actively join the project

Figure 1: With a “Mach mit!” (Join us!) letter all (approx. 7.000) households in the project area were informed of the District Future in 2013 and invited to actively join the project

Source: District Future

10The project takes sustainable development, an overall concept developed by the United Nations, seriously and wants to assess ecological, social, economic, cultural, and institutional matters in Karlsruhe in an integrative way and bring it to life in a scientifically sound way. The co-operation between urban society and KIT provides an experimental space to test new forward-looking ideas, societal and technological innovations, and life plans. Therefore not only suggestions for sustainable urban development provided by the urban society are seized in practice, but also KIT inventions are tested and researched within the urban space. They will then be further developed, projected, evaluated, and, at best, established, involving scientific findings and competencies.

4 Project Objectives

  • 3 The Integrative Concept of Sustainable Development widens the three-pillar approach of sustainabil (...)

11The main objective of the project is to transform the Oststadt, an existing urban district in Karlsruhe, in a long-term, dialogue-based process into a sustainable neighbourhood. This is based on a comprehensive and integrative understanding of sustainability which focuses its action on a global, intergenerational justice (cf. Kopfmüller et al. 2001; Seebacher et al. 2014).3 According to these values, we aim at an urban development which overcomes sectoral needs and individual interests within the city and also considers references, effects, and internal and external responsibilities of urban actors at both the regional and the global level (e.g. via commodity or cash flows).

12Another aim is the development of what already exists. The future challenges of sustainable urban development are the sustainable reshaping of our existing cities, not extensive new constructions. The city of the future is – at least in Europe and North America – already built. It is not about founding new cities, but dealing with the existing ones in a future-oriented approach. Therefore the task is to develop the existing, i. e. use the status quo of the urban structure, and provide a forward-looking perspective for a sustainable urban development. The approach and concept of District Future shall serve as a model here and be transferable to other (especially European) cities. This transferability is possible through the use of existing structures, a set of publicly available tools, and a forum without preconceived outcomes that is close to the people and includes (preferably) all societal actors.

13In addition, a dense sustainability shall be created, tried, and researched bit by bit. Numerous and diverse approaches as well as potential contributions to a sustainable development which were and are individually developed according to unique needs have to be condensed, associated, and combined to test the sustainable city in an urban transition lab. This aims at disclosing, researching, and – if possible – resolving the related interdependencies between a variety of contributions for sustainable urban development, the synergies, but also the inevitable conflicts of objectives. At the same time potentially sustainable approaches from preferably all urban areas of need and life (housing, work, supply, education, etc.) and fields of technology development (mobility, energy, protection of the environment and the climate, etc.) shall be pooled and interrelated in the project area to overcome the isolation of supposed sustainable inventions and to test them in practice in the “multi-context city”.

14Transdisciplinary research and the provision of KIT’s benefits to the region are additional objectives of the urban transition lab. So the development process of District Future is a transdisciplinary one, i. e. it does not only cross the borders of individual disciplines, but also results in a collaboration of science, politics, civil society, and the private sector. This also includes the particular interest to bring science closer to the urban society – and vice versa. One the one hand, this means opening up KIT – as a knowledge factory – to the region and let the region benefit from its knowledge and skills as well. On the other hand, the actors, and here especially citizens, shall be included in knowledge generation and technology development to bring local issues, challenges, needs, and approaches concerning sustainable development into research.

15Last but not least, the establishment of the overall concept of sustainable development in urban life and the promotion of a culture of sustainability (cf. Krainer/Trattnigg 2007; Parodi 2010; Parodi et al. 2011) have to be mentioned as a target. District Future shall create urban life that responds to the challenges of the 21st century with innovative technological solutions, but also quite basically with education, the revaluation of social relations, space for creativity, and adequate governance. In contrast to the common concept which associates sustainability mostly with efficiency and renouncement, District Future also wants to impart new qualities to urban life. The long-term establishment of the overall concept of sustainable development in all areas of urban life is imperative, providing the foundation for our actions.

Figure 2: “One meter of sustainability”: The z-fold leaflet, which was designed specifically for the use in the urban transition lab, summarizes the essence of the integrative concept of sustainable development in a generally understandable way for everyday use

Figure 2: “One meter of sustainability”: The z-fold leaflet, which was designed specifically for the use in the urban transition lab, summarizes the essence of the integrative concept of sustainable development in a generally understandable way for everyday use

Source: District Future

5 The Project Area

16The action and development of District Future – Urban Lab take place in Karlsruhe’s Oststadt. The project area was selected after a thorough scientific analysis. In the draft phase all 27 areas of the city of Karlsruhe were assessed for their suitability as District Future on the basis of a pattern of ten criteria which were backed with indicators. We were neither looking for the most prosperous district, nor for the one most in need of redevelopment; we were also not interested in the one with the best development opportunities or the largest deficits regarding sustainability (distance-to-target approach), but indeed in search of the district that provided the perfect conditions for an urban transition lab: for a consolidated transdisciplinary approach that aims at the comprehensive sustainable development of a district and guarantees the transferability of as many of the results as possible. Four of the ten selection criteria were prioritized or considered more important. These are briefly described here:

  1. “Urbanity”: The District Future should be one with an urban character. This criterion complies with the assessment that “the future of humanity lies in cities” (Kofi Annan4), and that cities as hotspots of sustainability problems on the one hand, but also of creative potential for their solutions on the other hand, are particularly interesting places of (non-) sustainability. This implies – especially once the desired model character and the transferability of District Future to other (European) cities is taken into account – that the district that has to be chosen should also have an urban character.
  2. “Heterogeneity”: The aim of District Future is to test a holistic sustainable urban development and to pool as many different (potential) contributions to such a development as possible within a small area. Therefore the microcosm “district” should ideally reflect all aspects of urban life: Working and living, mobility and locality, consumption and production, infrastructure and quality of life, etc. However, none of these attributes should dominate the district.5 Its population should also be heterogeneous to include and research as many different groups, affiliations, life designs, attitudes, etc. as possible.
  3. “Potential for participation”: The urban transition lab District Future does not have any decision-making authority and is a far cry from having the financial framework to pursue a sustainable urban development in the project area on its own account; it only can and wants to give impetus, provide scientific guidance and therefore depends on the participation and action of the urban actors. This is the crucial point. Therefore we were looking for a district where we could at least assume and expect participation.
  4. “Proximity to the city center”: This criterion aims at two goals: On the one hand, the district should – pars pro toto – be able to represent the whole city of Karlsruhe to make it easier for Karlsruhe’s citizens (and officials) to identify themselves with District Future, even if they do not life or act in the project area. We thus consider the acceptance within the overall structure of urban society and, in a way, also the transferability of the urban transition lab to other districts. On the other hand, the proximity to the city center also played a pragmatic role for the “commercial aspect” of the urban transition lab. Being an object of interest, the urban transition lab should be easily reachable for visitors – which is the case if it is close to the city center.

17After applying the ten criteria, three districts were considered as possible project areas. They hardly differed regarding the determined characteristics and had their particular strengths and weaknesses. All three were and would be well-suited for an urban transition lab District Future. The decisive factor for choosing Karlsruhe’s Oststadt was the vicinity to KIT. Several areas of the KIT campus can be found in the Oststadt and directly adjacent (Campus south, Campus east, a number of off-campus institutes). And since one of the aims of District Future is also to provide the inside, i.e. the responsible organization, with a sustainable development, the Oststadt, adjacent to KIT, was finally chosen.

18The sharp (municipal) borders provide an orientation framework, but do not define strict boundaries for the urban transition lab. Projects and experiments can also be located adjacent to the Oststadt. In the end, it is not important that the interventions of sustainable urban development take place within the borders of the district (which would anyhow often equal a systemic artificial, hardly appropriate, and analytically suspect demarcation), but that they are focused within a bounded urban space, even if the boundaries are blurring.

19Karlsruhe’s Oststadt is an urban, heterogeneous, dense, and in many ways quite “ordinary” public space which is an adequate representative of the organically grown European city. The Oststadt has approximately 20,000 inhabitants, a high quota of migrants (32 percent) compared to the average in Karlsruhe and a population growth of 9 percent in the decade 2000-2010 (cf. Stadt Karlsruhe 2010, pp. 53-60). Due to the high proportion of younger inhabitants, especially university students, and an active (older) citizenship (e. g. organized in the local civic association and the alliance of the Oststadt’s local business community [IGO]), we can assume a higher potential for participation than in other urban districts.

6 District Future as Urban Transition Lab

20District Future is a typical urban transition lab since it complies with all the important characteristics that were defined in the theoretical-conceptual and, most recently, also in the scientific-political debates on the concept of urban transition labs, even though the project itself started prior to this discourse (cf. De Flander et al. 2014; Groß et al. 2005; Schneidewind 2014; Schneidewind/Scheck 2013; Wagner/Grunwald 2015). In the following we will outline how the characteristics of an urban transition lab are specified and realized in the practice of District Future (cf. MWK 2013, p. 30).

Figure 3: Participative elements in the urban transition lab District Future with reference to the participating groups of actors

Figure 3: Participative elements in the urban transition lab District Future with reference to the participating groups of actors

Source: District Future

Co-design and co-production of the research process with civil society

  • 6District Future first went public with a work report and a subsequent workshop for the sustainabl (...)
  • 7 “As kick-off for District Future – Urban Lab in the project area Karlsruhe Oststadt the project te (...)
  • 8 Cf.

21Right from its beginning, District Future has pursued the goal to develop the thematic focus and organization of individual sub-projects and experiments with the citizens and actors in the district (cf. Parodi 2011). As an initial spark for specific, transdisciplinary projects and to agree on a thematic focus, we organized workshops6 and two large-scale participation events: the town hall meeting “Perspectives for the Oststadt – Designing the District Future7 and the BürgerForum “Sustainable Oststadt | Future in citizens’ hands”8 (cf. Meyer-Soylu et al. 2014), which was held over several weeks. Both formats gave citizens the opportunity to voice their needs and concrete suggestions on topics relevant for sustainability like mobility, energy, neighborship, urban society, economic activities & work, and provided a platform for networking and own society, economic activities & work, and provided a platform for networking and own activities. This helped to identify basic and locally relevant research fields for the urban transition lab and did not only bring people and actors together, but also advanced the development of topics – a first attempt of co-design – which have since then been and will also continue to be further elaborated over the next years in the form of transdisciplinary sub-projects (“experiments”) in co-production.

Figure 4: Kick-off workshop of the BürgerForum “Sustainable Oststadt | Future in citizens’ hands”

Figure 4: Kick-off workshop of the BürgerForum “Sustainable Oststadt | Future in citizens’ hands”

Source: District Future

Actors’understanding of transdisciplinary processes

  • 9 Apart from transdisciplinary research there is also ‘classic’ (inter)disciplinary research within (...)

22The District Future team attaches great importance to the transdisciplinary approach, the joint research and design on a par with actors outside the realm of science (cf. Parodi 2011). This is also communicated to its scientific partners and is a precondition for the co-operation in research projects within the framework of the urban transition lab District Future. Like this, the transdisciplinary approach is also conveyed to scientific disciplines which have not been familiar with this way of working so far. The transdisciplinary process understanding is realized in almost all activities of District Future,9 especially in the above-mentioned sub-projects. The Karlsruhe ReparaturCafé, a project of District Future, is a good example here. Committed repairers do not only fix all sorts of damaged items there, they have also started, after some time now (to date there have been five ReparaturCafés), to contribute their own questions, reflect on their own actions in the context of sustainable development, and discuss them with the scientists in (scientific) workshops.

Figure 5: Some impressions from the ReparaturCafé

Figure 5: Some impressions from the ReparaturCafé

Source: District Future

Long-term guidance and layout of the research design

23District Future is geared to the long term, considers sustainable urban development and the related transdisciplinary research and interventions as a matter of decades rather than years. This contradicts the common time horizons of the economy, politics, research policy, and scientific practice, which creates tensions and uncertainty. However, the project team has right from the beginning been keen to get to know the project area Oststadt, to understand it completely, become acquainted, and gain the people’s trust with the aim to build or allow for independent structures after all, which can then become autonomous and outlive the scientific funding as independent projects. This intensive familiarizing with the actors does not always lead to quick success, it is often rather an investment for the future. Trust needs time.

Broad disciplinary range

24The multifaceted challenges and topics of sustainable urban development call for a multi-disciplinary team. In the core team of District Future alone, the following disciplines are represented: Urban geography, architecture, philosophy, cultural studies, civil engineering, environmental science, geoecology. The wider circle of those who take part in District Future also includes scientist working in sociology, history, political science, industrial engineering, hydraulic engineering, process engineering, electrical engineering, traffic engineering, and many others. Since the core team is located at the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), there is also a broad range of disciplines close by in a scientific environment with colleagues to contact, if required. It should also be mentioned that not only transdisciplinary working, but also interdisciplinary co-operation is often a great challenge for scientists who are trained and used to work within their own discipline.

Continuous methodical reflection

25Due to the fact that District Future does not only research external projects and groups, but also instigates processes, acts creatively, and initiates projects, there is also a conceptual internal perspective of the researchers involved, which requires a (particular) reflection. This reflection takes place at three levels: (a) in the form of self-reflection within the team, through mutual, sometimes also mediated exchange on the role and the purpose of one’s own transdisciplinary actions; (b) in the form of a (national) scientific advisory board which was appointed by the KIT Focus Humans and Technology and accompanies and advises the urban transition lab District Future, and (c) at the level of the urban transition labs funded by the German state of Baden-Württemberg (“BaWü Labs”). As part of this funding of urban transition labs also comprehensive and supporting accompanying research is provided (cf. MWK 2015).

26This accompanying research and the core team based at ITAS guarantee the coordination of research support from institutes which have experience with transdisciplinary processes in the context of the project.

7 Topics

27In general, research in the District Future is carried out at two levels: a) at the level of overall urban development processes and the Oststadt district (e.g. sustainability assessment Oststadt) and b) at the level of individual transdisciplinary, topic-specific sub-projects (“real world experiments”) and activities in the project area. In doing so, District Future – Urban Lab pays full attention to all aspects of urban life. It is committed to research and sustainable urban development in the following thematic areas:

– City and climate change
– Economic activities in the city
– Urban energy landscapes
– Mobile city

– Loop city
– Consumption in the city
– City in post–growth
– Built city
– Value shift towards sustainability

– Urban technology
– Healthy city
– Living in the city
– Design of the urban develop ment process
– Social city

  • 10 A group of citizens who organize so-called district picnics every month in the public space to fos (...)

28Above all, these thematic areas reflect the holistic approach of the urban transition lab. They serve primarily as an analytical pattern to make sure that no areas of urban life and important fields of sustainable development are left unnoticed. Therefore it is irrelevant that the individual thematic fields cannot be categorically differentiated and that many specified real-world experiments influence more than one thematic field. These topics are realized in the form of sub-projects (or “experiments”). The first ones started in 2014 in the project area, the sub-project “Green facades” for example operates in the thematic field “Cities and climate change”, the “AG Oststadt neighbourhood”10 in the field “Living in the city”, the “Energy concept Oststadt” in “Urban energy landscapes” or the initiated “ReparaturCafé” in the thematic fields “Loop city”, “Economic activities”, “Consumption”, and “Post-growth”. A co-operation with the Global Ecovillage Network is dedicated to the “Value shift towards sustainability”. Other smaller groups deal with the topics shopping with no packaging, the establishment of a (regional) evening market for working people, or the promotion of cycling. Due to capacity constraints it is obvious that we cannot pursue all topic areas at the same time with the same intensity but have to tackle them bit by bit. These topic areas do not only have an analytical but also a considerable communicative function. Of course everyone wonders what an urban transition lab exactly contributes to sustainable urban development, which topics are specifically, or at least more specifically, dealt with.

8 Public Presence

  • 11 Within the science sector, the presence of the project and the interest in it go far beyond, inclu (...)

29District Future – Urban Lab depends on participation. Therefore a strong public presence and an appropriate reputation are not only helpful, but indeed necessary for a prosperous project. For the residents the clear visibility and availability in urban life, in the street, is especially important, while the municipality or other professional actors (who design the city) and the local economy are also interested in “laurels” that guarantee media attention. As examples we would like to refer to some actions and formats with good publicity which show the local and national public presence11 of the urban transition lab:

  • In June 2013, District Future – Urban Lab invited to the first work report and idea workshop in Karlsruhe to present the public with the current status of the project, to gather ideas for the further development of District Future with the participants of workshops on different topics of sustainable urban development, and to strengthen the network of actors for sustainable urban development in Karlsruhe.
  • Since fall 2013, District Future has appeared in public in Karlsruhe with numerous events. The District Future vehicle, a cargo bike, is regularly touring the city to inform and motivate the people. Specific theme nights like “Future urban mobility” or “Regional foodstuff” take place, an OpenAir Living Room is organized, and a low-threshold invitation for the District Future’s group of regulars goes out to all who are interested.
  • In November 2013, all residents of Karlsruhe’s Oststadt received an information letter which explained the aim of the project and introduced the series of events for the kick-off in the project area in winter 2013 and spring 2014.
  • District Future received the “Deutscher Lokaler Nachhaltigkeitspreis” (German Local Sustainability Award) in the category “ZeitzeicheN-Ideen” in October 2013, a prize awarded by the Germany-wide Netzwerk21 for local sustainability.
  • Since fall 2013, District Future – Urban Lab has been represented in the exhibition “Ideen 2020 – Ein Rundgang durch die Welt von morgen” (Ideas 2020 – A round tour of tomorrow’s world) by the Helmholtz Association.
  • District Future – Urban Lab has since 2013 been part of the urban development plan, the “Integriertes Stadtentwicklungskonzept (ISEK) Karlsruhe 2020” (integrated urban development concept).
  • District Future invited the residents of Karlsruhe’s Oststadt and all of those who are interested in sustainability in general to the town hall meeting “Perspectives for the Oststadt – Designing the District Future”, which took place in February 2014. Approximately 200 people accepted the invitation. Together with the District Future team, they had a day of discussions and plans for a multitude of ideas for a sustainable urban life. Since then, these ideas have been specified.
  • District Future organized the “BürgerForum Sustainable Oststadt | Future in citizens’hands”, which was held at the end of 2014 in co-operation with the city of Karlsruhe. It was a multi-stage, intensive participative format which consisted of face-to-face events and a six-week online phase. About 300 people contributed to its outcome, a BürgerProgramm (citizens’ program) for Karlsruhe’s Oststadt (cf. Meyer-Soylu et al. 2014). The ideas that were developed there are not only considered by the municipality and urban policy, they are also taken up by District Future for further transdisciplinary development in the framework of the subproject “Urban transition lab 131: KIT takes place”.12
  • An interactive exhibit of District Future was on board the MS Wissenschaft from April 2015 until September 2015 in the framework of the Science Year 2015 “City of the Future”.

Figure 6: Interactive map of the project area with ideas from citizens that have already been allocated after the town hall meeting “Perspectives for the Oststadt – Designing the District Future

Figure 6: Interactive map of the project area with ideas from citizens that have already been allocated after the town hall meeting “Perspectives for the Oststadt – Designing the District Future”

Source: KIT

9 Resilience and Transformation

30The objective of the urban transition lab District Future, the transformation of an existing urban district into a sustainable one, includes – implicitly and to a certain degree also explicitly – an improved resilience to disturbances by nature or human hand, like extreme weather conditions or the impacts of socio-demographic developments (“less, more colorful, older”). There are two reasons why this resilience is particularly important for urban spaces. On the one hand, cities and urban districts are complex and compact systems of humans and their environment, sensitive structures which are prone to disturbances with sometimes dramatic consequences; on the other hand, cities hold a great potential for coping with disturbances at the same time (cf. Kegler 2015). High heterogeneity, creativity, and an established culture of participation as well as the inclusion of (local) scientific institutions can facilitate responses to and dealing with disturbances.

31Resilience is also a precondition for the (permanent) sustainability of cities, because only resilient systems are able to recover from disturbances to survive in the long term (cf. Walker/Salt 2006). Therefore sustainability and resilience are closely intertwined and both are goals of, and methods, i.e. programs, for a future-oriented urban development. An urban development which is based on a broad and integrative understanding of sustainability implies and hence fosters also the development of its resilience. However, if only individual aspects of sustainability are considered in urban development, this does not contribute (systematically) to resilience, and urban development does not take advantage of its opportunities to foster resilience.

32So a comprehensive understanding of sustainability is accompanied by a sophisticated concept of resilience which is not reduced to a system’s resistance and ability to recover, but also indicates its capability for self-renewal (cf. De Flander et al. 2014; Walker/Salt 2006). Cities have to be resistant and able to withstand crises. But they also have to adapt to new circumstances, which may lead to changes and almost unpredictable further development. Thus an important element of cities’resilience is their ability to experiment or tolerate experiments and include innovations in their development (cf. Newman et al. 2009). This understanding of resilience underlines the importance of urban transition labs where experiments and innovations are realized in a transdisciplinary way and accompanied scientifically.

  • 13 These poles define a field that represents the areas of action for resilience and emphasizes the t (...)

33To illustrate the relation and interdependency between urban transition labs and resilience (cf. De Flander et al. 2014), we will link the characteristics of resilience described by Harald Kegler (cf. Kegler 2014) to concrete attributes and activities of the urban transition lab District Future. Kegler’s characteristics are defined by opposite poles.13

Robustness and fragility

  • 14 Cf.

34A system with robust structures can cope well with predictable disturbances. For example, extreme rain events can be appeased by a proper greening of public spaces, one of the concerns of District Future. However, these robust structures have to be variable as well in order to allow adapting to different framework conditions (cf. Sieverts 2011). The climate adaption plan of the city of Karlsruhe (cf. Stadt Karlsruhe 2013) aims at such a robustness when dealing with climate change. Not only the robustness of urban planning, but also societal aspects are important here. The transdisciplinary approaches of urban transition labs for example generate socially robust knowledge which can be used by local actors in their respective contexts (cf. Groß et al. 2005). This is exactly what happens when District Future passes its sustainability knowledge on to the urban society, where it is contextualized and applied. At present, a consultancy on energy issues and everyday mobility is established in the district to socialize knowledge and anchor it robustly in the local urban society. Strengthening good neighborly relations within the district14 also contributes to social robustness.

Compactness and decentralization

35The European district is (ideally) a compact and fragmented unit within the larger system of the city. Compact diversity allows for short distances and efficient mechanisms, for example in the field of mobility or shopping. Right from the beginning, when the project area was selected, District Future attached great importance to compactness in order to create a dense sustainability in all spheres of life. Decentralization is also a keyword, although not a magic word; if many processes and systems can be locally organized (e.g. energy production in the city block or neighborly help), others might, if applicable, also make sense in a central(ist) way (e.g. district heat supply in Karlsruhe’s Oststadt). Being a lab, District Future also wants to provide an experimental ground for decentralized solutions where the focus was so far clearly on centralized ones; for example concepts for a local wastewater treatment and heat recovery in the city are pursued.

Autarky and exchange

36We can strive for autarky in many different fields, but nutrition and energy are probably the most obvious ones. However, we also have to observe (reasonable) boundaries here. A regional supply of food and local energy production often show the way to a sustainable development, but can only partially be reasonably realized in the urban space. The exchange with the “hinterland” will also remain a subject and still make sense in the city of the future. Yet it is important how this exchange and the relation between the city and the countryside are organized in terms of sustainability in a fair way. The ReparaturCafé in the District Future is another example for trying an approach to a self-determined life, or at least a life less determined by industry and consumption. It also illustrates the importance of social (knowledge) exchange in the urban space. Nevertheless, the boundaries and achievements of a society like ours – whose organization is mainly based on the division of labor – have to be acknowledged here as well, crazy ideas of self-sufficiency are not appropriate.

Redundancy and diversity

37A system consisting of diverse and redundant components can usually be considered more resistant to disturbances; it can adapt faster and easier to new situations. If ties are established to a comprehensive and integrative concept of sustainability, it becomes apparent that redundancy and diversity are addressed here, too. Also the activities initiated and accompanied by District Future reflect redundancy and diversity. For instance, the pending challenges of sustainable development (like “climate adaption” or “aging society”) are being respectively addressed in different specific approaches in a diverse and also, to some extent, redundant way.

Modularity and complexity

38These opposing notions can be found in different parts of the District Future concept. The concept of “sustainability” as an ethical-scientific ‘theory of everything’ already aims at taking complexity into account (across all thematic areas, disciplines, temporal and spatial scales, societal actors, subsystems, etc.). However, the range of topics of District Future with its thirteen defined topic areas has a modular design (built city, healthy city, consumption in the city, loop city, mobile city, social city, etc.) to make the given complexity of urban life addressable and manageable. Apart from that, modularity and complexity of city and urban development are not an explicit characteristic of the work of District Future.

Stability and flexibility

39Stability within a district does not only emerge as a result of an elaborated planning of architectural elements and infrastructures (like mixed residential districts which allow for short distances, or accessibility which makes it easier to grow old in the city), but also and above all through established social structures within the urban society. The mere composition of such structures guarantees the necessary flexibility. Solid, efficient neighbourhood networks, like, e.g., the local “Oststadt neighbours”, contribute to a consolidation of the local social capital – and allow for flexibility. In this way, sound neighbourhoods are able to deal in a more flexible and resilient way with external challenges like refugees or the impacts of climate change.

40[This article was first published in Hahne, U.; Kegler, H. (eds.): Resilienz. Stadt und Region – Reallabore der resilienzorientierten Transformation. Frankfurt am Main u.a.O. 2016 pp. 101–125 (in German)



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1 Cf. In the following, the short form “District Future” is used as a synonym for the project.

2 Cf.

3 The Integrative Concept of Sustainable Development widens the three-pillar approach of sustainability and considers not only the ecological, economic, and social dimensions, but also politicalinstitutional and cultural aspects. The “pillars”/“dimensions” are not separated but linked and integratively considered as guidelines.

4 Kofi Annan at the “Conference on Sustainable Urban Development”, Moscow, 5 June 2002.

5 In Karlsruhe there are explicit residential districts close to the city center.

6District Future first went public with a work report and a subsequent workshop for the sustainable city of the future. It presented the current status of the project development and provided insight into the project work. This was followed by the District Future idea workshop, where the project team discussed, drafted, and collected ideas for the sustainable city of the future with visitors in a thematically focussed way (cf. Quartier Zukunft 2013).

7 “As kick-off for District Future – Urban Lab in the project area Karlsruhe Oststadt the project team organized a town hall meeting ‘Perspectives for the Oststadt – Designing the District Future’ to start the dialog with the urban society in a large format” (

8 Cf.

9 Apart from transdisciplinary research there is also ‘classic’ (inter)disciplinary research within and of the District Future, e.g. the district study (cf. Hammer et al. 2014) or studies on certain aspects, like, e.g., the understanding of sustainability in the Oststadt district (cf. Waitz 2013) or the ecosystem services there (cf. Albiez 2012). This disciplinary research entrenches transdisciplinary research in the corpus of classical science, accompanied and supported by transdisciplinarity.

10 A group of citizens who organize so-called district picnics every month in the public space to foster social ties and the exchange of knowledge between the neighbours. This aims at getting to know each other better, organizing cross-generational help and exchange, and retaking possession of the public space.

11 Within the science sector, the presence of the project and the interest in it go far beyond, including other European countries, Russia, Mexico, Israel, Brazil and the US.

12 Cf.

13 These poles define a field that represents the areas of action for resilience and emphasizes the transformative character of sustainable and transformative urban development.

14 Cf.

Table des illustrations

Fichier image/jpeg, 266k
Titre Figure 1: With a “Mach mit!” (Join us!) letter all (approx. 7.000) households in the project area were informed of the District Future in 2013 and invited to actively join the project
Légende Source: District Future
Fichier image/jpeg, 176k
Titre Figure 2: “One meter of sustainability”: The z-fold leaflet, which was designed specifically for the use in the urban transition lab, summarizes the essence of the integrative concept of sustainable development in a generally understandable way for everyday use
Légende Source: District Future
Fichier image/jpeg, 168k
Titre Figure 3: Participative elements in the urban transition lab District Future with reference to the participating groups of actors
Légende Source: District Future
Fichier image/jpeg, 173k
Titre Figure 4: Kick-off workshop of the BürgerForum “Sustainable Oststadt | Future in citizens’ hands”
Légende Source: District Future
Fichier image/jpeg, 218k
Titre Figure 5: Some impressions from the ReparaturCafé
Légende Source: District Future
Fichier image/jpeg, 170k
Titre Figure 6: Interactive map of the project area with ideas from citizens that have already been allocated after the town hall meeting “Perspectives for the Oststadt – Designing the District Future
Légende Source: KIT
Fichier image/jpeg, 234k


Dr.; Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute of Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), Karlsruhe, Germany;

Dipl.-Geoökol.; Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute of Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), Karlsruhe, Germany;

Dipl.-Geooekol.; Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute of Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), Karlsruhe, Germany;

Dipl.-Umweltwiss.; Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute of Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), Karlsruhe, Germany;


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