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by Martina Ziefle, Christoph Schneider, Dirk Vallée, Armin Schnettler, Karl-Heinz Krempels and Matthias Jarke

Urban Future Outline (UFO), is a project funded by the Excellence Initiative of the German states and federal governments at RWTH Aachen University (2013-2015). It aims at developing a holistic approach, in which energy needs, mobility demands, ecological and climatological requirements and human demands are addressed, against the background of socially responsible technology development in urban areas.

One of the key challenges for contemporary research is to develop and maintain livable, sustainable and resilient cities. For the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population live in urban spaces. The complexity of urban areas necessitates interdisciplinary approaches to be taken in research and development. Goods and services have to be available at short notice. Mobility must be affordable and reliable. Technical infrastructure needs to be easily accessible. Citizens require appealing living quarters embedded in open spaces with green and blue infrastructure. Often, these demands are contradictory, thus imposing considerable challenges on urban planners.

Figure 1: The overall approach and the topics addressed within UFO

UFO is organized in three subprojects: Future Mobility refers to sustainable infrastructure; Future Energy tackles questions regarding energy supply and the transition to renewable energy production; and the fields of biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation are the targets of Future Ecology.

Future Mobility
Mobility is an essential prerequisite for people participating in social and economic lifes. In light of the peak oil debate, the EU guidelines for air pollution control and environmental noise and demographic developments, mobility concepts must change drastically. Transport systems need to be highly adaptive to periods of peak usage (i.e., rush hours) at multiple scales (e.g., day-by-day or seasonally). They must meet a range of community needs including accessibility, comfort, safety, sustainability, affordability and environmental justice. Mobility options must be intermodal, flexible and designed as “door-to-door” mobility chains. The predominantly technology-centered planning of infrastructural mobility concepts, without integrating citizens into the decision making processes, is no longer viable.

This sub-project combines city and mobility planning with the technical possibilities of information and communication, the cognitive and communicative requirements of urban populations, discursive practices, media strategies and gender aspects. The goal is to develop a multifactorial information and communication strategy that involves the social, individual, communicative and cognitive needs of the citizens, as well as technical and urban planning related aspects of feasibility.

Future Energy
This sub-project focuses on energy turnaround and the interrelation between the technical, economical, IT, ecological and social perspectives. Its aim is to develop a holistic model and a methodology for the implementation of sustainable, robust energy systems that systematically include social factors (i.e., user perceptions of energy systems) into the identification, planning and realization of energy scenarios. Within the context of environmental and technical conditions, acceptance-relevant factors (perceived as the benefits and drawbacks) from different regional contexts are collected, evaluated and modeled to determine their relationships. The inclusion of social knowledge is accomplished via three data sources: the empirical modelling of cognitive-affective attitudes, the analysis of opinion-forming processes on the Internet and an assessment of environment-related aspects. Potential decision trade-offs are identified using conjoint analyses.

The results are integrated into the development of technical, economical and IT transformation processes. Based on this modelling, an understanding on the technical, economical and social perspectives on energy transition are derived. These results are useful for politicians and decision makers and make an important contribution in developing transparent and adequate communication policies.

Future Ecosystem
Planning, implementing and sustaining livable urban spaces that pay equal attention to humans, technology and nature is a task that has not been solved holistically to date. Situations where combined stressors are acting pose specific challenges for urban development because the negative effects of superimposed stresses such as heat, noise and air pollution cannot be easily discerned when taking a single stressor perspective. This deficiency is all the more sensitive at certain times, for example summer, when thermic differences are more extreme and higher levels of air pollution are expected due to climate change.

This sub-project aims to (1) consider combined stress situations in a measurement and model chain, (2) derive combined stress indices and (3) make these accessible in a virtual environment (aixCAVE). Apart from the thermic component, air quality, acoustic perception and user perception are all considered. Which mix of combined stresses for urban residents inhabiting differently designed open spaces will be investigated, as will future scenarios. As opposed to previous approaches to modelling the effects of thermic and actinic stresses, (4) stresses will be diversified by user profiles, gender, and age.

Overall, the research design in UFO aims to make use of the most recent developments in technology, information sciences and natural sciences. At the same time, it sought to develop a feasible solution to integrating the social, economic and cultural needs associated with urban development [1]. An integral part of the UFO project, therefore, is the multi-disciplinary approach [2] [3]. The consortium consists of nine scholars from RWTH Aachen University:
• Christoph Schneider - Physical Geography
• Martina Ziefle - Communication Science
• Dirk Vallée - Urban and Transport Planning
• Matthias Jarke - Information Systems
• Armin Schnettler - High Voltage Technology
• Eva-Maria Jakobs - Textlinguistics
• Carmen Leicht-Scholten - Gender and Diversity
• Janina Fels - Technical Acoustics
• Andreas Schäffer - Environmental Biology
• Peter Russell - Computer Aided Architectural Design
• Thomas Niehr - German Linguistics
• Thorsten Kuhlen - Virtual Reality

[1] C. Schneider, B. Achilles, H. Merbitz: “Urbanity and Urbanization: An Interdisciplinary Review Combining Cultural and Physical Approaches”, Land 2014, 3(1), 105-130
[2] S. Krengel, T. Falke, A. Schnettler: “Optimization Model for the Energy Supply in City Quarters”, in proc. of CIRED 2013, Stockholm
[3] S. Himmel, M Ziefle, K. Arning,: “From Living Space to Urban Quarter: Acceptance of ICT Monitoring Solutions in an Ageing Society”, in M. Kuroso (ed.), Human-Computer Interaction, Users and Contexts of Use. Springer LNCS 8006, pp. 49-58.

Please contact:
Matthias Jarke,
Fraunhofer-FIT, Germany
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Martina Ziefle, Christoph Schneider
RWTH Aachen, Germany
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Next issue: July 2024
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