Don’t wait, get involved – the DIY movement plays a growing role in shaping our cities. Now, Yannick Haan’s “Hack Your City” project curates the development of ideas for a better city.

Mr Haan, when someone hacks my computer, I have a problem. Yet when my city is hacked, it evolves. What exactly is a city hack?
Yannick Haan: A city hack is about small improvements to urban living. To name just a few excellent examples: In Karlsruhe, a “Hack Your City” member invented traffic lights featuring an intercom that lets you talk to people on the other side of the road. Another participant develops new apps for bikes – they let you pick the sunniest, quietest, or fastest route. And then there’s a great idea from Berlin: On the “Kiez-Karte.berlin” map people can enter their own urban design requests: Let’s add a zebra crossing here, a traffic light there, a garbage can over here, or a playground in this particular spot.

Are these ideas submitted by committed citizens or professionals?
Yannick Haan: This also depends. In Karlsruhe, for example, two physicists approached us with a “balloon sensor” project. Their large, sensor-equipped balloons are designed to visualize a city’s pollution levels across the sky, to be visible from far away – when the air is very clean, the balloons remain white; once pollution rises to high levels, they turn red. A simple, but effective approach.

Is “Hack Your City” part of a larger movement?
Yannick Haan: “Hack Your City” started out as part of the German Year of Science 2015 and its “city of the future” focus. The aim was to develop ideas and approaches that would solve urban challenges and thus improve the city on a volunteer basis. In Germany, “hacking” still carries the negative connotations of evil computer hackers, but city hackers only appropriate the positive aspects of hacking – its creative DIY ethic.

Hack your city balloon project
Yannick Haan’s “Hack Your City” initiative brings people together and designs ideas for better cities.

Hack your city: one of the first German platforms

So, are people starting to understand that the city is not a given, but open to change?
Yannick Haan: This is exactly what people are starting to realize. You no longer need to wait for the city to get in gear and offer opportunities. The internet is a great help; initiatives like “Hack Your City” are among the first platforms of their kind in Germany. People are discovering that it’s fun, that it allows you to circumvent complicated political structures, and that it lets you put your ideas into practice quickly.

How did you launch this sizeable task and project?
Yannick Haan: To kick it all off, we organized a weekend hackathon with city planners, designers, programmers, associations, other initiatives, and university scientists. Our goal was to have an initial project prototype by Sunday night. Then, we built on this in work groups with people who met on a weekly basis to develop and refine their ideas.

Okay, so which cities have you “hacked” so far?
Yannick Haan: We started with Berlin, Dortmund, Karlsruhe, Dresden, and Leipzig to cover most German regions, but naturally we also checked if these cities already had the right community in place.

Hack your city signs
Hack your city discussion
Hack your city women in conversation
Hack your city brainstorming
Hack your city berlin
Hack your city community
Hack your city presentation
Hack your city meditation

Mobility and environmental issues dominate

What sparks the current strong interest in actively shaping a city’s future?
Yannick Haan: Urbanization gave the decisive impulse. Not too long ago, people were always talking about “dying cities.“ Now, many people are moving back to the city. And they realize that they don’t have to wait for cities to fix themselves, but that they can tackle a lot of issues themselves.

Which topics surface in all of the cities?
Yannick Haan: I had expected sizeable differences between the cities, i. e. to see Berlin tackling very different challenges from Karlsruhe, but the opposite turned out to be true: The no. 1 topic was invariably mobility, followed by creating an environmentally friendly city.

So, what’s going to happen to all these great ideas in 2016?
Yannick Haan: We try to encourage exchange between the cities and provide a platform for presenting and collecting projects. When it comes down to it, however, it all boils down to the participants’ own initiative. We give them the opportunity, material, contacts, and some financial support – but in the end, it’s them who have to do it themselves.

All images incl the header image: Hack your City