Project Inspirer aims to engage citizens in urban planning – with 3-D and virtual reality

Citizen participation in urban planning: making it clear and simple

The aspiration of the research project is great: All sections of the population should be able to participate in urban planning processes in the future. A consortium consisting of the HFT Stuttgart, various universities from Berlin, research institutions, the Virtual Dimension Center (VDC) and the city of Fellbach is researching how participation processes can be organized as simply, clearly and purposefully as possible with technical support.

The results from the Inspirer project – "Participation in urban planning processes in virtual and real spaces" – are being tested in Fellbach and Berlin, among other places. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is supporting the project and its total of eight partners to the tune of 1.8 million euros.

A plan usually does not provide a vivid or realistic impression. For many people, maps, building plans and general plans are difficult to directly interpret. Where is what located, what is the height of the future building, how is it accessible, how close is the development to the existing buildings and much more information is contained in such maps, but it is only legible for a few. To envision a blueprint as a future building requires not only spatial imagination, but also experience and knowledge in the field of technical drawings.

Comprehensive and coherent information

"The combination of interactive geographic three-dimensional landscapes with virtual reality creates a realistic image of urban planning designs. Citizens can navigate through the space via computer and get information. The image generated brings the plan to life," says Professor Dr. Volker Coors, scientific director of the Institute for Applied Research and geoinformatician at HFT Stuttgart. Citizens thus receive comprehensive, coherent information that allows for immediate participation, and directly contribute their desires and suggestions – whether with 3-D glasses, tablet PC or at home on the computer."

"The effect of buildings cannot be realistically conveyed from a bird's eye view, so even small model buildings, which are often viewed from above, are not necessarily helpful," says Professor Dr. Christoph Runde, VDC's Managing Director. Especially in the case of participation processes in the urban planning, the question arises as to how the information can be more broadly and comprehensibly embedded in the public.

"Participation processes are prescribed at an early stage - but if there is a lack of understanding, they don't really serve their purpose," Dr. Christoph Pfefferle, Economic Development Manager of the city of Fellbach, is convinced. In the recently approved federal research project "Inspire," easily accessible participation processes are to be developed. Among numerous other aspects, the researchers are also relying on a mix of virtual and augmented reality. "With virtual reality, I can represent the fictional future as a complete 360-degree simulation. Augmented reality, on the other hand, means the view is supplementing with computer graphics: in this way, buildings that don't even exist yet can be depicted along side an existing development. This is a great way to immediately see whether new and old go together or not," says Pfefferle.

"Participation is more than just laying out plans – it requires knowledge and understanding, and in order to communicate this better in the future, we are relying on the research association," continues Fellbach's mayor Gabriele Zull.

Experiments in the real laboratory

The theoretical considerations are to be put into practice in the city of Fellbach. The city forms a so-called real laboratory, in which these new participation processes are to be tried out and also further developed after feedback from the population.

The project is scheduled to run for three years and is being financed 100 percent by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. In addition to Fellbach and Berlin as real laboratories, VDC, three universities (Berlin School of Economics and Law, Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin, HFT Stuttgart, Point Cloud Technology GmbH and the Women's Computer Center Berlin are involved.

The results of the project will be made available to other communities and institutions. "We assume that the project will be met with great interest," Coors, Pfefferle and Runde are certain. In principle, the scope of research includes not only virtual representations but also the transfer of other technical, ethical, legal and social aspects.

Publish date: 09. August 2021 By Susanne Rytina (), Stadt Fellbach ()