City of the Future: What Makes a City Worth Living In?

Reconsidering the city, from diverging and yet intricately connected viewpoints, such as technological and spatial planning doctrines, forms of participation, (artistic) interventions, or traditional aesthetic and architectural theory: that was the mission of the #rp15 sub-conference "City of the Future" that took place in collaboration with the German Science Year 2015.

Innovation, communication, dialogue and artistic practice in public space were some of the issues guiding this topical track. The sub-conference brought experts from all over the world together to work on their vision of the sustainable, future-proof city.

Opener for the sub-conference was Stefan Müller, State Secretary from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. He asked: "What makes cities liveable, and what does digital development and sustainability have to do with it?" Then architect Jan Liesegang of raumlabor Berlin presented some of his insights from interventional urban land use. The interdisciplinary design collective raumlabor addresses the challenges of architecture, urban planning and public space design through everyday practice.

[caption] Jan Liesegang from raumlabor talked about interventional urban land use; Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner (CC BY-SA 2.0).[/caption]  

And there were countless other ideas for the city of tomorrow: Out of more than 100 applications, we found 25 speakers – urban planners, sociologists, graphic artists, software developers, scientists – most convincing. They put their own projects, tools and artworks for the sustainable city of the future up for debate – from Aram Bartholl’s mesh network project “Dead Drops”, over instructions for creative squatting provided by Alex Rühle, to tracking projects using urban infrastructure and to the activity-oriented workshop "2030 – Living and working in the village of the future" that seeked to develop ideas about how individual lifestyles will change in the city of the future using design thinking methods. 


Art and design displays were complemented with theoretical lectures from research and practice. Amongst others, Austrian architect Günther Zamp Kelp talked about the remnants of utopia in contemporary design. The founding member of the Haus-Rucker-Co collective also presented some further insights into evolutionary thinking for architects and city planners (read our portrait here). Also Carlo Ratti of the MIT Sensable City Lab was speaking about how cities and urban life could develop, the more interactive they become and the more data is being produced.  

[caption] Günter Zamp Kelp, co-founder of the collectiv "Haus-Rucker-Co" during his talk about utopia in the urban landscape; Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner (CC BY-SA 2.0).[/caption]

"How do we want to live, and how much living space do we need?" This was the question posed by the Hamburg architect Van Bo Le-Mentzel. He presented his design for a "1sqm house", and spoke about the "Tiny House" movement and its ability to address issues like soaring rents and lack of housing. Architect Alfredo Brillembourg from the Urban Think Tank, in collaboration with the Innovation Network GIG, provided an international perspective, discussing the question how local expertise provided from the community could help cities organize themselves better with researchers and innovators from Africa and South America.

Citizen involvement was also at the heart of the "Hack Your City" session. Torsten Witt from Wissenschaft im Dialog (Science in Dialogue) explained how “citizen science communities”, composed of scientists, urban planners and interested members of the public, are finding digital and analogue solutions for urban problems and challenges. The complementary "Hack Days" taking place in Berlin, Karlsruhe, Dresden and Dortmund in the course of the Science Year 2015 are to develop first prototypes and matching ideas.  

[caption] Julia Kloiber during the "Hack Your City" talk; Credit: re:publica/Gregor Fischer (CC BY-SA 2.0). [/caption]

And finally, the Lightning Talks brought tiny sparks of Utopia to the re:publica. They revealed areas where the participation and creative input of the public have already paid off, for instance with a project turning disused billboards into works of art or presenting a possible new foodchain system for the city. 

The city of the future is already so much more than a sketch, and hopefully there will be as many of these innovative projects encouraged and implemented as possible! All talks can be watched in our YouTube playlist here.     

Photo credit top image: re:publica/Jan Zappner (CC BY-SA 2.0)


The Science Year 2015 is centered on the city of the future, not least because cities are important places of innovation. The Science Year initiative encompasses a scientific framework programme as well as accompanying events, and is a good example of how academia and civil society can participate in sustainable development, and promote public debate about science. The Science Years are organized by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, , in cooperation with WID – Wissenschaft im Dialog (Science in Dialogue). re:publica is one of the partners, and will highlight the future of the city, between technology, society and sustainability, with a special BMBF-funded sub-conference.