Digital transformation

Design and view your own neighborhood in AR

January 19, 2022 - 4 minutes reading time
Article by Robert Koot

What if you were allowed to help design the layout of the street where you live? Municipalities that want to creatively involve citizens in decision-making about their living environment, can now use a brand-new online platform set up for exactly this purpose: Furban. The accompanying Augmented Reality app even offers a lifelike peek into possible future streetscapes.

Compare it to IKEA's 3D kitchen planner, but meant for public space, with playground equipment, benches and greenery. Municipalities and cities that want to let residents creatively participate in the design of public space can now do so at Furban, a new online platform where citizens can design proposals for their neighborhood or street.

Municipalities can also place design proposals itself. After sharing the proposals online, neighbors and other interested parties can respond to the designs and discuss them via chat. It is a low-threshold form of citizen participation that allows municipalities to easily collect ideas from residents, companies and other stakeholders. Urban planners, landscape architects or participation experts can then take these into account in their plans for public space.

Furban enables municipalities to organize citizen participation

The idea for Furban originates from Neslihan Sahin and Sander Meinders, both employed by Centric Public Sector Solutions. Neslihan: "Our aim was to experiment with a different label and the idea of a corporate start-up. We are really running the project together, as a multidisciplinary team. Sander focuses on business operations and customer support, our Romanian colleague Andra Spiridon is a product owner and UX designer, and I deal with marketing, communication and pre-sales."

"With Furban, we would like to contribute to a sustainable physical environment that meets the needs of residents and businesses," says Neslihan. "We do this by involving them. With more involvement, we also create more support."

To further increase that involvement, Furban uses augmented reality. Part of the design platform is the Furban City AR app, which allows submitted designs to be viewed in augmented reality, outdoors, on the spot. By pointing your phone’s camera at the street, the app shows you in an augmented reality layer what the public space would look like according to that design. The design tool thus offers an innovative way to involve citizens in decision-making about their own neighborhood.

Municipalities are excited

There is a lot of interest for Furban among municipalities. At the moment, the Furban team is conducting a pilot project with the municipality of Rotterdam. Sander: "Residents of a large square in the south of the city were able to come up with designs. They were also involved in the project through Teams. Using our AR app, the designs could be viewed in augmented reality on the square itself. This fits in with Rotterdam's smart city ambitions, for which the city is investing in apps and promising digital projects. Furban is one great application of this."

The Furban platform, which consists of a website for making and sharing 3D designs and an accompanying AR app, is being developed by the Furban team, including their Romanian Centric colleagues in Iași, among whom Andra Spiridon: "Unlike many other Centric solutions, Furban is not tied specifically to the Dutch situation or regulations. It can be used on a one-to-one basis in other countries, such as here in Romania."

World Bank

Andra thinks along about new functionality, but also about marketing the platform abroad. "At a networking event earlier this year, I had the opportunity to talk to people from the non-profit organization Urbanize Hub. Fortunately, they were enthusiastic about our plans to support citizen participation with Furban, and several opportunities have already arisen from this. The World Bank, a development cooperation institute, is also supporting these kinds of projects in Romania with grants."

‘More and more cities are allowing residents to contribute to the renewal of public space'

‐ Andra Spiridon, product owner

The Eastern European country would like to leave its communist past behind, says Andre, including the sometimes drab or outdated layout of public space, which often lacks playgrounds or attractive meeting places. Andra: "Urban planning is a hot topic, and more and more cities are allowing residents to think about the renewal of public space and revitalizing city centres.

Railway area in Bucharest

Thanks to Andra's new contacts, the Furban team carried out a design project this summer, in the city of Florești, some 400 kilometers west of the Centric office in Iași. A similar, but larger-scale Furban pilot project is planned for the Romanian capital Bucharest this winter. The aim: to involve local residents in the renewal of an outdated former railway area. People are given a few weeks to come up with ideas and designs, after which the city council will redesign the area based on the wishes of its residents.

Andra describes the 3D visualization of the designs the most appealing feature of Furban. "It literally gives residents and authorities a good idea of what a street or an area could look like. It involves people more in the decision-making process about their own living environment. An additional effect is that this participation by residents will contribute to people's confidence in the government, which has traditionally not been very high here.

So, what does the future hold for Furban? Neslihan: "We now want to enter into a long-term partnership with the non-profit organization Urbanize Hub. They are committed to the sustainable modernization of urban areas with the help of technology. We hope that the Furban platform will play a great role in this."

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