Transformative Research in Digital Twins for Integrated Urban Development: Two Real-World Experiments on Unpaid Care Workers Mobility

Transformative Research in Digital Twins for Integrated Urban Development: Two Real-World Experiments on Unpaid Care Workers Mobility

Michael Ziehl, Rico Herzog, Till Degkwitz, Martin Heinrich Niggemann, Gesa Ziemer, Rosa Thoneick
Copyright: © 2023 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/IJEPR.333851
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Integrated urban development can serve as a cross-sectoral planning concept to manage processes of transformation in urban systems towards sustainability and resilience. At the same time, urban digital twins are being implemented with increasing frequency in urban planning. They can be used to foster such transformations and to make improvements that are more adequate regarding the complexity of urban systems than mere efficiency boost. In this article, the authors discuss how they try to support such change by applying transformative research methods, such as conducting real-world experiments based on prototyping and testing digital tools. The article illustrates how they use the development of urban digital twins in Hamburg, Germany as a field of intervention with the aim of achieving broader usage by and representation of marginalised groups that are typically overlooked in such technology and in urban planning itself.
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In view of current challenges for urban planning, such as migration, segregation, gentrification, demographic change and extreme weather events due to the climate crisis, the transformation of cities towards sustainability and resilience seems necessary (UN Habitat, 2022; Elmqvist et al., 2019). The concept of integrated urban development (IUD) serves as a comprehensive basis on which decision makers and planners, especially in European cities, can manage the necessary transformation processes for urban systems, aiming to meet local challenges with a common good-oriented, multi-stakeholder approach (Ministers responsible for urban matters of the European Union, 2020). However, when this concept is put into practice, numerous challenges arise. Among other demands, IUD requires different departments of the city administration to work together, to involve citizens in planning processes to a greater extent than usual, and to find intersectoral solutions for complex problems in order to develop and jointly implement tailored solutions (Heinig, 2022, p. 18; Beckmann, 2018; Kotzebue 2016).

To deal with such challenges, digital technologies are becoming increasingly important in urban planning. Their growing usage, manifested, for instance, in the development of urban digital twins, is characterised by a knotty relationship between smart city projects and enhanced urban resilience and sustainability. On the one hand, a focus on efficiency, pursuit of profit and proprietary technology in smart city projects hinders the development of resilience principles, such as redundancy, diversity and adaptivity (Berbés-Blázquez et al., 2021) and oftentimes overlooks social aspects of urban planning. On the other hand, the deployment of digital technology could ultimately also contribute to increasing urban resilience and sustainability, as examples of social digital twins show (Degkwitz et al., 2020; Ravid & Aharon-Gutman, 2022). It is thus up to the people commissioning, developing, implementing, and managing such technology to find best practices in their application.

In this contribution we describe and reflect on how we as researchers use one of Germany’s largest smart city projects, Connected Urban Twins (CUT), as a field of intervention to actively engage in urban transformation processes supplementary to the process of knowledge production (Bergmann et al., 2021). This approach implies putting the normative aspects of our work up front and describing how we seek to actively support the project’s goal of promoting IUD. We intend to develop and promote digital resources for the Hamburg twin that enable the representation of overlooked and thus underrepresented groups in the city’s digital planning infrastructure. The focus of this paper is on the process and means of our transformative research, rather than on the process of knowledge production and its results. We showcase our approach by discussing two real-world experiments (REs) in Hamburg, Germany, which we carried out to test two digital tools in their ability to support IUD: one for storytelling and one for data collection.

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