Finding housing and building land – An app is to help communities

Carl is standing in front of a house with smashed windows. While he takes a photo of the building with his tablet, he wonders who this house may have once housed. From the road that connects two small villages, you can almost see the approximately one hundred year old brick building with its decorated bay window – so much overgrown with trees and bushes. Witch house, his little sister would say, the student thinks and begins to shiver: Discomfort creeps up inside him. It seems creepy to see the building with the open doors and the windows that seem to stare at him in black. As he moves away from the building and returns to his bike, he types information into the tablet: Vacant residential building, presumably renovation possible, three-story, single and owner “unknown” – this because there is no name on the doorplate. The data and information about the location of the property are automatically retrieved by the app to the saved image and sent to the database of the respective municipality.

Carl studies Smart City Design at the Macromedia University in Berlin. This summer he is working as a student assistant for the German Society for Interior Development on behalf of a Hessian municipality. A great holiday job, he thinks: while he crosses picturesque landscapes on dirt roads, he uses the tablet to document all the development areas, wastelands and vacant lots he sees on his bike tour. Never before would he have believed how many areas, residential buildings and industrial structures are vacant, unused or dilapidated.


Outdated data sets make it difficult for municipalities and cities


Up to now, vacancies and brownfields in the municipalities have often been stored in different data formats, for example in the form of Access databases or Excel files. This prevents the rapid and needs-based identification of suitable areas and buildings. In this way, undiscovered development potential lies dormant in every community, which could be quickly tapped. This applies not only to rural areas, but also to cities where housing is scarce and rental and purchase prices for houses and apartments are rising much faster than household incomes. Although against this background, the activation of inner-city development potentials in urban agglomerations is becoming increasingly relevant, opportunities for this are often overlooked: Be it vacancies, fallow land, under-used areas, unused attics, parking spaces, low-rise buildings or conversion areas, every municipality has undreamt-of development potential that could quickly be put to better use.

For Carl this is an uncomplicated and pleasant job. The app application installed on the tablet is easy to use. This was developed by Immovativ GmbH and helps municipalities and cities to record, digitise, quantify and activate their usable areas at the click of a mouse via the municipal database.

The municipalities have data sovereignty

The software first identifies surfaces – to do this, people like Carl go out with tablets and photograph surfaces and empty spaces. These are provided on site in the app with all recognizable real estate information about the area and automatically queried. The data and current photos are then transmitted online to the database of the respective municipality and stored. With the database of their development sites, municipalities receive a daily updated overview and a map of their interior development potential and can generate an interior development report at the push of a button, thus meeting the requirements of the Building Code “inside before outside”. The software solution thus helps to sustainably reduce the new consumption of ecologically valuable land.


The disproportion between ghost town and new building


Vacant and dilapidated houses are a nuisance for many residents. Often, construction is carried out in the wrong place, while at the same time houses in the vicinity are dilapidated or areas that can be built on lie fallow. Despite vacancies in the town centre, it is often not put to a new use and at the same time new settlements are growing on the outskirts of the town, displacing fields and meadows. According to the Building Culture Report from 2016/2017, 84 percent of single-family housing areas will be newly designated by municipalities. The result is an increasing number of places whose core resembles a half-decayed ghost town – surrounded by satellite single-family house settlements. This happens because municipalities – due to their outdated documentation – cannot identify their urban planning potential at the click of a mouse.

Carl passes some disused railway tracks and a half-decayed factory with his bike, which he documents with the tablet. The landscape is breathtaking and would certainly be a nice place to live for many people. He would like to write his thesis on what is needed to reactivate such areas.

Is the rural area doomed?

For small towns it is more important than ever to be attractive to citizens in order to secure their existence. According to United Nations estimates, by 2050, two thirds of all people in Cities live. This raises the question of how need to set up rural municipalitiesin order to be able to deal with the Luminosity of the cities to compete. Conurbations offer their inhabitants creativity, complexity and a varied life. In order to prevent the desertification of rural villages, which is accompanied by the closure of schools, cut bus lines and discontinuation of medical care, such places must offer special highlights today in order to be able to keep up with the magnetic effect of urban centres.

A recipe against the wasteland of rural communities: conversion of historic buildings

Places that are able to transform their architectural infrastructure into a mixture of historic buildings and creative new buildings attract people. They have the chance to become so-called “Future Regions” – or villages of the future – and enjoy increasing numbers of inhabitants. Conversions of vacant buildings lead, with creative design and the use of modern technology in terms of energy and resource consumption, climate protection and architectural identity – to exciting new living space or commercial areas. With its projects, Siemens AG demonstrates worldwide that the costs of sustainable renovation of historical buildings can be amortized within a short time.

Transparent urban development

For successful inner development of overcrowded cities and progressive provinces it is essential to have comprehensive and easily accessible information on vacancies and brownfields. In the conurbations, areas must be identified which can be developed quickly – also to counteract large-scale expansion and further land consumption. Provinces must remain attractive in order to stem the exodus from entire regions. Planning solutions are offered by Immovativ’s software with its instruments for interior development, vacancy management, the real estate portal and citizen participation. The app from Immovativ not only gives municipalities and cities an overview of their available building and space potential, but also Google relevance. Over 70% of all real estate inquiries are now only made directly in Google. Keywords such as “buy house in Wanfried” or “buy commercial space Darmstadt” are searched for. It is therefore immensely important for local authorities to be present with the real estate offers in Google on page 1. For this purpose, Immovativ has launched a separate, municipal real estate portal online for all German cities and municipalities, where municipalities can market real estate and construction areas in a Google-relevant manner and where citizens can advertise free of charge.

Being easily found on the net is an advertising effect for small communities struggling against emigration, reaching potential new citizens. If a place can score points with possible jobs in addition to its pleasant architecture, then the move and the future are secure.

With the software solution of Immovativ the entire inner development process of a municipality consisting of identification, digitalisation, quantification, activation and marketing of inner development potentials is mapped with digital instruments for the first time.


More than just a planning aid


The application is also designed for interaction between the municipalities and their citizens: For example, the module “Citizen Participation” can be integrated into it, which allows citizens to obtain comprehensive information about municipal development projects or to express their opinion on them. After all, it is often the citizens who have decisive knowledge about the former use and history of buildings and areas and who demand a say in their development. For administrations, this can result in completely new and innovative ideas for new uses. The digital exchange is very popular with the citizens, they can actively participate in what will happen in their place – which building decisions will be made. Communication between municipal administration and its citizens is considered one of the decisive trends for the future under the heading of “e-government”. Copenhagen, for example, has become a global showcase city thanks to its traffic concept and urban planning, which involves citizens in decision-making.

While Carl climbs on his bike, he imagines how the house with the pretty bay window could one day, thanks to his help, become a lovingly renovated multigenerational house with a jointly cultivated garden. When he finishes his studies, he wants to push ahead with such social urban planning projects. His bicycle tour soon leads him past a picturesque little lake. He thinks this area is magically beautiful in general. Time for a little bathing break, he thinks and parks his bike. It’s the best job he’s ever had during the semester break, he rejoices as he jumps into the cool blue of the shiny lake.


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