Dear Madame Second Mayor,
Dear Professor Ziemer,
Dear Mr. Larson
Dear Mr. Sprandel,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There are situations in which one simply needs a pilot. I use the word here not in the modern (aeronautical) sense of one who operates an aircraft but rather in the older (nautical) sense of a mariner who steers or guides ships through dangerous or congested waters. In 1858 the port of Hamburg began engaging maritime pilots and today, no one can imagine how we had ever gotten by without them.
Pilot projects -- those that most literally lead the way -- were named after these maritime navigators.
Finding Places is just such a pilot project. And it has had numerous pilots. The first of these were the scientists involved. In January I approached Prof. Ziemer with the following question: Seeing as Boston’s CityScope program can also be utilized by non-experts, can you use it to develop a planning tool to identify spaces on which to build housing for refugees? Can this be done in a manner as rigorously scientific and data-driven as that otherwise employed by CityScienceLab? Only here with the aim of placing a political debate on a solid scientific footing?
This complex task has also led the HafenCity University Hamburg (HCU) into uncharted waters. Based on the open-source program CityScope and with the support of the Central Coordination Unit for Refugees (ZKF), the team developed the city model Finding Places in just a few months. This is a tremendous achievement!
Dear Professor Ziemer, you and your team have delivered a remarkable and technically extremely creative result on the highest scientific level. You have created a top-notch pilot project that has changed the way we think about the city. Finding Places has propelled us powerfully into the future.
Finding Places brings together the knowledge of demographers, municipal authorities and geographers and makes it immediately usable. Participants in the workshops find themselves in the position of informed city planners who have to come to grips with a dauntingly complex task. It is not just any theoretical challenge that our city must meet, but rather the challenge, and we must meet it together: The challenge of determining what spaces can be utilized for the housing of refugees. “Finding Places“ is an appeal whose message is: This is your city. Here is a chance to test if what makes sense in theory also stands up in practice.
The program facilitates decision-making under real-life conditions. At the interactive planning table, one gets a clear sense of the precision and attention to detail with which great political decisions must be made. The program guides the user through the masses of data: Color codes indicate the location of public spaces and the legal requirements that apply to them.
All citizens are invited to take part. For every municipal district, numerous workshops will be held. At the interactive planning table of Finding Places, you are in the position of those who are sometimes referred to as being “up there”. You see the options and potentials for development as well as the limits and numerous restrictions. You can formulate suggestions, help to decide what is important and take responsibility for shaping the city. This requires patience, something that is otherwise demanded only of our civil servants.
The suggestions from the workshops are documented, published and reviewed. And if they are deemed suitable, we will build on the suggested spaces.
In no city in the world has such a project ever been launched. And it is no coincidence that it is precisely in Hamburg that such a project is being developed. For it is the hallmark of our city that we harness digital technologies in the interest of furthering democracy and finding positive ways to influence social change.
Only a society with a complex administration collects, collates and stores such data. And only a democratic one has an interest in creating a model of a city based on this real-time data and, above all, in sharing it with the public: Everyone in Hamburg can learn about the nature of the spaces, their ownership status, what buildings are currently there and what the distribution of residents is like. The state-run organization Geoinformation und Vermessung has quickly and continuously supplied the HCU with all of the data. Everyone can verify the parameters.
Finding Places is the Hamburg model of digitally informed civic engagement in an open society. Here a truly social and interactive model has been created.
The politics of an open society, stresses the philosopher Volker Gerhardt, requires an a priori minimum of trust. This trust is not a naive optimism, nor a belief in a utopia. Rather it more closely resembles the positive curiosity of travellers who discover a city for themselves.
Such an open and curious perspective also made this project possible: Finding Places is an invitation to re-appropriate the city and to confidently find solutions to a great challenge facing our community.
You are warmly invited to take part. See if the Senate and the districts have overlooked anything. I’m sure you’ll find a thing or two.