Historically, the city of Jena has been characterised as the 'city of light' referring to its academic and scientific achievements in Germany. It in that context that Jena has begun to develop a Smart City strategy with citizen participation projects around five priorities: digital infrastructure and data policy; city planning, environment and traffic; education, culture and social issues; economy and science, including digital administration.
This year, the state of Thuringia and the city of Jena host the Digital Summit 2023 where knowledge and networks around citizen empowerment meet. Together, Thuringa and Jena aim at strengthening the city as an innovative digital and science location. You can find information and access to livestream / recordings here.
As of 2019 Jena's citizen budget has become a powerful tool for fostering an active participation culture. At mitmachen.jena.de/buergerbudgetcitizens aged sixteen and older can contribute their ideas and vote on which projects should be implemented with the budget. The participatory budget has led to visible results, fostered democratic participation and also empowers citizens to actively shape the city they live in.
Head of Department for Urban Development and the Environment and Mayor, Christian Gerlitz underscores the impact of citizen budget projects and how suggestions from residents can and have led to significant urban improvements:
"The citizens' budget in Jena has once again gained public interest. More than 1,400 Jena residents got involved this year and helped decide how the funds from the citizens' budget should be used. This means that the wishes of the population can be implemented, particularly in the smaller districts. I hope this will encourage many more suggestions to be submitted in the coming year."
A muddy playground
In 2023 the citizen budget process has harvested a variety of ideas from motivated residents. It concluded with 7,504 valid votes selecting fourteen out of thirty proposals for implementation. The selected projects include a digitization project for a dinosaur path, open libraries and a muddy playground for children, which demonstrates the diversity and community-oriented nature of the initiatives.
The challenge of maintaining high engagement and ensuring the diverse needs of its population are met, is a top priority when envisioning Jena's future, according to Dr. Thoms Nitzsche, the Mayor of Jena:
"As the hometown of Carl Zeiss, Jena was already shaping the leap innovation in the field of optics in the last century. Today, digitalization offers the opportunity for innovation in other areas. These innovations affect business, science and civil society. There is no one and no area of life that is not affected, which is why it is essential that everyone is involved."
Young people: represent
Although the city is not done learning citizen participation, it explicitly stresses two points in its approach:
clear communication: ensuring citizens are aware of the participation rules and process from the start to avoid invalid submissions.
youth engagement: involving young people aged 16 and older in the process as to increasing representativeness and legitimacy. In general Mitmachen Jena has been able to engage more than five percent of its population in the 2023 participatory budget.
In conclusion, Jena aims to include diverse community groups in the participation process and explore new ways to integrate citizen feedback into city planning.