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Former Tempelhof Airport: forecourt
Former Tempelhof Airport: forecourt © Claudius Pflug

CityLAB Berlin

Think Tank and Innovation Lab for the Smart City of Tomorrow

The future doesn't happen by itself. Innovation must be encouraged and driven. CityLAB Berlin is at the forefront of digital innovation, from smart city governance to festivals of creative bureaucracy and data analysis to help improve neighbourhoods. Get ready for the smart city of the future.

CityLAB: improving governance in a smart city

ehemaliger Flughafen Tempelhof
© Verena Eidel

If you've lived in Berlin, you've most likely visited a government office – be it to register, get a visa, sort out tax issues or some other boring, if necessary, bureaucratic task. You'll most likely have noticed how a surprising amount of these administrative processes can't be done online and require paper forms. And that these offices have shelves creaking under the weight of countless folders full of paper records. On the one hand, the system works – the processes might be slow and frustrating, but they get the job done. On the other hand… could there be a more efficient way? Without paper and snail mail and queues and appointments and frustration? Could we experiment to see if other methods work, too? CityLAB Berlin thinks that we can experiment – indeed, that we should and we must experiment, make mistakes, learn from them and improve. They believe this is how we can use technology to make the city better and more efficient for everyone.

The Berlin city government agrees. According to Frank Nägele, Berlin's State Secretary for Administrative and Infrastructure Modernization, "…the administration cannot organise change processes as well as the start-up scene can. Start-ups have a high tolerance for mistakes and failures. That's different in the administration. Administrations are designed to work error-free. That's why they are inherently cautious, even averse, to change. With CityLAB, the Berlin administration gets a protected space where one can dare to question existing processes, bring in their own ideas and consult experts for the conversion."

A think tank for a city of the future

Vision of the Tempelhof Airport Tower Berlin
Vision of the Tempelhof Airport Tower Berlin © mlzd

CityLAB isn't just focused on improving administrative structures. They're interested in any idea that might transform Berlin into a city of the future, and so far they've come up with many interesting ways to do so.

  • The Stadtpuls (City Pulse) project collects and visualises data from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, making the data freely available to investigate how a neighbourhood's quality of life is affected by noise. Using IoT technology could be a versatile way to record and measure enormous volumes of data on almost anything, from noise pollution to air pollution to temperature differences to CO2 levels to traffic trends.
  • The Gieß den Kiez (Water the Neighbourhood) project recruits locals to help maintain city trees. It's much cheaper and more sustainable to look after existing trees than plant new ones, and this platform visualises every tree in Berlin with data on type, age and water requirements. When users water local trees, they use the app to mark them as watered so others know the tree is looked after.
  • The Erfrischungskarte (Refreshment Map) is a godsend in the hot Berlin summer. Using open-source data, it maps cool, windy or shady parts of the city to allow people to get a break from the heat.

Get involved: Workshops & Events

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CityLAB is based in Tempelhof. They hold workshops, presentations, panel talks, conventions and other events at their offices. Some of their recent events have included:

  •  A workshop by the Data Scientist for Social Good Initiative. This organisation helps nonprofits make better use of data they collect to measure the impacts of their actions, determine future strategies and automate processes where possible.
  • The Creative Bureaucracy festival, started in 2018, has since harnessed the power of smart, innovative bureaucrats around the world. From programmes to digitalise small enterprises in Paraguay to humble governance in Colorado, the festival is a unique and collaborative way for forward-thinking governance ideas to be celebrated and disseminated.
  • An audio walk through Berlin called RECLAIM THE STREETS that's aimed to provoke discussion on what a city of the future should look like. Like everything CityLAB does, there is plenty of time and space for people to share their own thoughts and ideas.

How to get there and other attractions

CityLAB Berlin HQ is right beside U-Bahnhof Platz der Luftbrücke in Tempelhof. Since many events are now online, check their event listings to see what's going on. It's still worth a trip to this part of Berlin – Tempelhofer Feld is a wonderful wide-open expanse of urban green space, and the bars and restaurants of Bergmannkiez are not to be missed.

Tempelhofer Feld Berlin, recreational sport
Tempelhofer Feld Berlin, recreational sport © visitBerlin, Foto: Arthur F. Selbach