Think BETA: Participative Evolution of Smart Cities

The aim is to combine advanced new media art with research and development of innovative technologies, participation methodologies and innovative services for the design of the new urbanity.
Monday, 19 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Martin Koplin
Chair Person: 
Helmut Eirund
Carl Skelton
Michael Johansson
Mikkel Thelle
Betaville – The New Brooklyn
Screen shot of "Future Turf" Proposal for the Downtown Brooklyn Commons project
Das dynamische Haus – The dynamic House - Urban Design Vision at the Rememberti Project Bremen
Mobela C

Panel Chair: Martin Koplin
2nd Chair: Prof. Dr. Helmut Eirund

All thinking is in BETA - so how should the future city and urbanity be designed? The panel discusses new processes for the Participative Evolution of Smart Cities, the culture and technology of the new soft city. The aim is to combine advanced new media art with research and development of innovative technologies, participation methodologies and innovative services for the design of the new urbanity. The art objective is to arise new media and urban art scenarios in areas of re-design and re-construction. The technical objective is, to research and to develop mobile-stationary environment for smart cities as participatory and performative cultural media infrastructure for their development. It is about the requirements for future technical and cultural mass player infrastructure for the urban development of Smart Cities and the optimization of municipal services and digital infrastructures in form of media art and gaming processes. Which technical approaches from media art, urban art, conceptual art, eGovernance, e-services, e-mobility, LBS, to the user-affected eCulture and eCreativity are to be included to develop and to provide improved systems for urban development, planning and participation?

Citizen participation in urban development has a long cultural tradition in Europe. The rising complexity of urban development and infrastructure issues evoke the need of improved cooperation of governmental entities, experts and citizens. Decision making processes for future activities in the field of urban sustainability require an enhanced approach to citizen participation, artisic expression and user-friendly expert articulation. It is required to access the full potential of the new capabilities of communication networks, the broad availability of microcomputers, and the new design and e-skills. The design, development and implementation of the Betaville “software infrastructure” meet all demands of future citizen participation for a sustainable urban development.

Previous approaches did not took into account existing expertise (eg. of media art, civic arts, participation or gaming or set a single discipline perspectives unbalanced in the foreground. Which is be counteracted through the interdisciplinary configuration of the panel. Similarly, technical and organizational issues of participatory urban planning with different approaches for different user groups are to be considered. How alternative planning processes by artists, media activists, designers, researchers can be integrated should be discussed. Advanced art and environmental and socially sustainable design is to be of particular interest and will get exposed. Digital infrastructure should be directed to their local potential for participatory art and design, for development, for local knowledge processes and for the aspect of cross-generational, social and economic networking.

Think BETA Participatory Evolution of Smart Cities is chaired by the two directors Martin Koplin and Helmut Eirund of the “Think BETA Evolution of Smart Cities” interdisciplinary think tank. It has partners from Asia, Africa, North America and all over Europe. The think tank is funded by the BMBF German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung) and goes back to the co-operation between Martin Koplin of the M2C Institute of Applied Media Technology and Culture at the University of Applied Sciences Bremen and Carl Skelton from the BxmC Brooklyn Experimental Media Center of the Polytechnic Institute of the New York University.

Paper Abstracts

Think BETA- Soft City Culture and Technology

by Martin Koplin

Think BETA is a think tank for Soft City Culture and Technology – the Evolution of Smart Cities. The future city and urbanity will be re-designed through participative activities.  The think tank´s contains a new approach to the Soft City Culture and Technology. The designated partners improve the networking with each other in the Think BETA think tank to facilitate the exchange of scientists, artists and knowledge and promote a common strategy for research development in ICT infrastructures for Smart Cities from which applications for R & D projects are produced. Also new partners are invited to link their existing research activities with the think tank in a way that extended cooperations into different disciplines in the respective universities get possible, as well as into regional R & D initiatives in related fields. Over here, Think BETA established an integrated think-tank, whose work is perpetuated in an international virtual research lab. Concretely from the researcher and artist exchange and joint research strategy, joint innovative approaches, research projects and proposals are brought forth. The ultimate goal is to develop a cross-border Think BETA virtual institute in ICT for Smart Cities. This is done through the intensification of interdisciplinary knowledge exchange, the enhanced cross-linking of research activities, the exchange of researchers and all other measures.

The aim is to link advanced research and development of innovative technologies, methodologies and innovative services and to move them forward through cooperative R&D projects. The technical objective is, to research and to develop a mobile-stationary, multi-media environment for smart cities as infrastructure for their development. It is about the requirements for future technical and cultural (mass player) infrastructure for the urban development of Smart Cities and the optimization of municipal services and digital infrastructures. Existing technical approaches from eGovernance, e-services, e-mobility, LBS, to the user-affected eCulture and eCreativity are included to develop and to provide improved mobile-stationary digital systems for urban development, planning and participation. Previous software approaches did not took into account existing expertise eg in the field of civic participation, integration of decentralized power management or the social-economic balance in architectures sufficiently, were not adequately developed user-centered, or set a single discipline perspectives unbalanced in the foreground. Which is be counteracted through the interdisciplinary configuration of the think tank. Similarly, technical and organizational issues of participatory urban planning with different approaches for different user groups are considered. In this case, alternative planning processes are integrated and perceived in particular for the relationship between life and work. Advanced environmental and socially sustainable design is to be of particular interest and will get exposed. Digital infrastructure will be directed to their local potential for participatory design, development, for local knowledge processes and the aspect of cross-generational, social, artistic and economic networking.

The Betaville Participation System

by Prof. Dr. Helmut Eirund and Prof. Dr. Thorsten Teschke

Betaville is a project of the think tank: Think BETA – Evolution of smart cities. It supposed to result in a platform that fosters online collaboration and participation of community groups in urban living by providing adequate tools and methods. It provides a development, communication and decision making environment for local initiatives and project groups. Betaville supports the complete development process from early-stage ideas and discussions through ongoing engagement of communities in project decision and project implementation.

Application Scenario

In Alphaville, a fictitious city, an old factory has been torn down. The vacant area is to be revived in the near future and the city hall constitutes a planning board¬¬–the official process has started. In order to take into consideration its citizens’ demands for a livable city on the one hand as well as potential interests of authorities and technical restrictions on the other, the public administration is interested in the active participation of other parties in the decision and development process. Therefore, it creates a new project within Betaville and configures the available real estate in the virtual system.

Bob likes to actively take part in the planning process about his vicinity. As he is interested in a mixed use of the area, he uses Betaville’s functionality to incorporate 3D models of a town houses settlement as well as a small shopping mall with space for different shops. Alice gets to see Bob’s proposal on Betaville and adds a 3D bounding box that serves as a request for a kindergarten that she finds essential for a vivid quarter. Later, others can specify exactly the 3D view of it in new proposals. After releasing her ideas, her friend Carol also wants to participate in the redevelopment of the area. Equipped with her mobile device, Carol inspects the area and uses Betaville’s mobile client for 3D on-site-visualizations of the different planning proposals on her mobile screen. With these authentic impressions in mind she realizes the long distance from the housing area to the kindergarten and changes the proposal directly on her mobile by drawing the kindergarten nearer. Back at home she realizes a lack of green space and substitutes the shopping mall in Bob’s design by a small park.
Members of the community, local authorities, or even potential investors now have the chance to refine and extend the development branches created by Bob, Alice, and Carol, to rearrange the proposals or even to create new branches. Furthermore, every member of the community has the chance to participate in the decision making process that should end up in a small set of possible solutions. Currently, Betaville experiments with different strategies to perform this task.

In order to integrate as many citizens as possible in the process, Alphaville additionally allocates interactive urban screens in the vivid city centre for communicating the current status of the development process. At multi-touch tables small groups can meet and collaborate in real life, discuss alternative proposals, create and manipulate new ideas and visualize them on the attached urban screen.

Although we have focused the application scenario on urban development, the project is open to other applications that apply these three levels of (web-, mobile- and table-) colla¬boration and participation, like urban art projects or computer augmented learning. 

Betaville: The View from New Brooklyn 

by Carl Skelton

The Betaville project has matured from an experimental software development project into a vehicle of communication and exchange in the mainstream: as a creative tool in planning and architecture studios, a medium for concept development and advocacy in the context of local art and urbanism projects. In this paper, one of Betaville's founding citizens will present some of the first results from Betaville's implementations in the field as a collaborative envisioning and development environment: from adaptive re-use of existing built forms to large-scale neo-topias built for New York, but in many cases drawing on a mind-boggling breadth of precedents. It seems to be possible to "mash up" Prouns, New Babylon, New Urbanism, discarded designs for baseball stadiums, and next-generation technologies... until the mix is just right for a next step in the real world. 

E-participation - Engaged Participation 

by Michael Johansson, Martin Wetterstrand and Rikard Lundstedt

At Kristianstad University the informatics group have founded the “Collaborative media Lab” including participants with a background in academia, design and in art. The aim of the lab is to work with design of new technology and its application with a user-centered perspective in both real, virtual and mixed media settings. Having worked with participatory design and 3D/virtual realities in several design/research project, we have seen the strength of collaborative design tools that allow newcomers to design and work with 3D. They were able to engage in designing in relation to rather complex scenarios and spaces, and in that way explore the design challenges that are offered in a particular context. This has typically been done in groups located  and working together in the same room. But now with the social web including distributed and shared collaborative environments these setting can be used for engaging participants in a dialogue of future urban design challenges in new ways.

In our former research we gained a lot of knowledge and experience of how to use computers and software as tools when directing and conceptualize traditional productions, but we still have a lot to learn when it comes to seeing digital material as a design or artistic material in itself, especially in the area of collaboration. However it is not so strange, as digital design is not yet as mature as traditional design. Digital material have characteristics that differ a great deal from those with which most people are accustomed. Digital materials are usually more complex and flexible, less transparent and tangible. We have to point out the need for a more profound relationship when and where to use digital materials and tools. We believe that increased complexity in creative development calls for both disciplinary depth and integrative skills.

E-participation is a way of letting the public into planing and decision processes. The keyword here is “processes”. Rather than e-democracy, e-participation is about creating dialogues, and being able to contribute with new suggestions and ideas.Working in the research field of design, we stress the importance to give the co-creators a common and grounded point of departure. We therefore use a mix of fiction and facts in our planning and writing process, to provide relevant and engaging background information. This is later are handed over as scenarios to the invited participants. The scenarios provide detailed and specific data, which then the co-creator can use as reference material for their future action. The scenarios acts very much as constraints, but also as a first generator in a chain of associative design work that follows, producing a shared proposals. Based on scenarios our model of exploration starts in a believably territory, were all of the co-creators put forward, experiment and establishing iterations between the themselves and the scenarios in a collaborative 3d setting. The scenarios. provide knowledge to the different stakeholders and influence their development using this shared 3d environment as the surface for exploring concepts and communicate them amongst the participants in an constant dialogue. A Collaborative 3d environment can be an effective environment for expanding ideas and gain a better understanding of the design task. Totally untrained persons are able to build rather complex spaces within short time limits. It is playful, fun and stimulating to use, promoted innovative thinking and in that way activating the design process.

Our conclusion is that this is due to the fact that E-participation and the actual design of virtual spaces can support participants and stakeholders to combine different ideas, negotiate and prioritize. In this way the shared environment deepened the understanding of designing in the context of future and complex urban spaces.

Between Past and Future: collaborating in the city space

by Mikkel Thelle

As most european cities and towns, the danish capital Copenhagen has many different layers of physical buildings and structures, but also of stories and meaning attached to the spaces and places of the city. These spaces and their meaning is of interest to many different positions: planners, artists, historians, urban developers, museums, researchers etc.

The city is today such a complex system that not many people can relate to more than their own quarter or street, and certainly very few have access to the stories and meanings that permeates the buildings around them. From the point of view of city authorities, it is hard to get a dialogue with the public about visions for the future of the city.

Through a combination of a web-based 3D-environment and a pervasive, mobile technology, the many parties involved in the city can collaborate in a way that visions, history and existing rules will impregnate each other.

Bios of the Participants

Martin Koplin

Martin Koplin is founding Director of the M2C Institute for Applied Media Technology and Culture at the University of Applied Sciences Bremen, Germany.

He worked as media artist for over 15 years and is a scientific researcher in the field of computer science, digital media and virtual organization for more then 10 years. Actually he works on participative media and virtual organizations and is coordinator of several EU-projects. He studied media communication, cultural studies, organizational studies and labour studies, has two M.A. and is actually completing his PhD in Computer Sciences.

Martin curates media-art events and earned innovation awards for his R&D projects, like the "Best Practice in Creativity and Innovation of EU Programmes" in 2009 by the European Commission, or the "Annual Multimedia Germany 2009". He is lecturer for digital media communication and information and communication technology. Before, he was director of the M2C Institute, he was working as scientific coordinator and researcher in the eCulture Factory of the Fraunhofer Institute IAIS, in the research group mobile2culture of the Digital Media Program Bremen and in the Institute for Graphic Computing and Interaction at the University of Bremen. Martin published over 40 articles, papers and international conference contributions.

Prof. Dr. Helmut Eirund

Prof. Dr. Helmut Eirund received his diploma in computer science from University Kiel in 1985. He joined TA/Olivetti research lab (Nürnberg) and worked within several r&d projects on multimedia document management, where he becomes Technical Project Leader of the EU ESPRIT-Project 28 Multos.  Until 1991 he was a research assistent at University of Oldenburg where he also received his doctoral degree on multimedia document archival. Subsequently he worked at OFFIS research institute (Oldenburg on multimedia development tools. From 1994 to 2001 he was a professor for Media Informatics at Hochschule Harz, University of Applied Studies and Research and 2001 he left to Hochschule Bremen, University of Applied Sciences with the same position. In spring term 2005 he worked as a guest professor at Humboldt State University (CA). He is co-founder of the M2C institute of applied media technology. Helmut Eirund leads several projects and research activities in Mobile Applications, Multimedia Systems and Electronic Entertainment and is author of about 30 reviewed papers and 4 books.

Carl Skelton

Carl Skelton is Industry Professor and the founding director of the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center and the Integrated Digital Media programs at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. His work on the Betaville project has been supported by the Rockefeller Foundation through its Cultural Innovation fund, the Municipal Art society of New York, Microsoft Research through the Games for Learning Institute, and Red Hat.

Michael Johansson

Artist, Senior Lecturer, Researcher

Born 1962, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Educated at the royal college of fine arts in Copenhagen 1984 -1990.
I worked with digital media as part of my work practice for over 25 years.
I have done about 30 exhibitions both in Sweden an abroad.

Since 1999 I have been involved in research at the Interactive institute, Space and virtuality studio, and between 1998-2007 at Malmo University arts and communication. Since 2010  works as Senior lecturer of fine arts in informatics at Kristianstad University, Sweden


Computer games in architectural design
Peter Fröst, Michael Johansson, Peter Warrén
In Proceedings of HCI 2001, New Orleans 2001

Designer or Artisan
Design versus Craftsmanship in digital design
Håkan Edeholt, Michael Johansson, Simon Niedenthal
6th Asian Design Conference, Tokyo 2003

Michael Johansson, Per Linde
Pixel Raiders 2 
Sheffield Hallam University 2004

Are you programmed to speak

Design Spaces 
EDITA IT Press 2005

Michael Johansson
Report: Art in relation to new Media education
Malmö University – Malmö Sweden 2006

Place-Specific Computing – conceptual design cases from urban contexts in four countries
Jörn Messeter and Michael Johansson
DIS 2008 
Cape Town – South Africa 2008

Journey to Abadyl

PRAMnet 2008

The city of Abadyl
Metapasticity in virtual worlds: aestetics and sematics concepts

Editor Dr. Gianluca Mura Politecnico di Milano University
IGI Global 2010

Mikkel Thelle

Mikkel Thelle is PhD fellow in History and Media Science and curator at the National Museum of Denmark. He has worked extensively with the role of digital media in museum frameworks. As a historian, he is working in the field of urban cultural history, studying among other things the networks of the modern city.