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Seniors often find it harder than younger people to move independently around their city: Eyesight and hearing fade. Going long distances becomes increasingly tiring – and even dangerous. A team of development managers from Drees & Sommer is working together with eleven other project participants to make two urban districts in Mönchengladbach safer for seniors.

UrbanLife+ is the name of the research project on which the development managers from Stuttgart and Cologne have been working since November 2015. The goal is to develop digital solutions that facilitate seniors’ participation in everyday life in public spaces. It sounds abstract, but involves some very concrete ideas: Pedestrian crossings that extend their green phase as required, benches to which people with poor circulation can be guided in emergencies, curbs that lower for walking frames, street lights that adjust their brightness to the visual acuity of passers-by, and sensors that indicate hazards on road crossings and intersections. All this is made to work by Human-Technology Interaction (HTI). “We use the public space as a cloud,” explains Mustafa Kösebay.

Urban planning know-how in demand
The EUR 6.2 million project stemmed from the ‘Innovations for Local Authorities and Regions Undergoing Demographic Change (InnovaKomm)’ competition, and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Project partners at the University of Hohenheim need data to turn the ideas into innovative HTI solutions. For example, they have to know exactly where the so-called municipal facilities are located and whether they can be equipped with suitable technology. This is where the development managers bring their expertise to bear, using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) systems that have been tested and improved over many projects. “Our activities have included making an inventory of the street furniture,” explains Björn Sommer. For example, the Cologne-based project manager went out in all weathers to catalog all street lamps and benches in the Mönchengladbach districts of Rheindahlen and Hardterbroich with their geographical coordinates and certain characteristics: What is the height of the bench seat? What is it made of? Does it have a backrest? How many people can it seat? The consultants also analyzed and showed typical shopping routes – such as from the retirement home to the nearest baker. All this data was fed into a database for the research and development partners to use. It forms the basis for the ongoing improvements to the street furniture.

Blue City in practice
“It's great that we can participate in this research, applying our experience and our tools in a different context, with the aim of making public spaces barrier-free – and not just for seniors,” says Mustafa Kösebay. He sees the project as part of the overall concept ‘Blue City – Integrated Urban Solutions’, with which Drees & Sommer is positioning itself as a developer of sustainable solutions for the cities of tomorrow. Demographic change is a crucial factor in this area.

Björn Sommer also finds it exciting that the project is so completely different. “Development management often involves short consulting contracts – feasibility studies, for example. It's a great to be involved in a job that allows you to really get to grips with a project, to make a constructive contribution from the outset, and to play a significant role in guiding the project – all with people from totally different disciplines such as IT, software development and social welfare.”

Safety Atlas shows the way
UrbanLife+ is a five-year project. In addition to prototypes of intelligent street lights, curbs, and benches, the goal is to produce a Safety Atlas. This guide is to be developed by Drees & Sommer. It will show urban planners and HTI developers how they can design urban districts to make them adaptable to demographic change. Because Mustafa Kösebay and Björn Sommer are convinced that much of what applies to Mönchengladbach can be transferred to other cities.