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May 22-24 | 2019

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  /  Built Environment & Architecture   /  DIY city transformation!

DIY city transformation!

With BonnLAB Johanna Schäfer is continuously building a space that challenges the status quo of how things are. Every day she rolls up her sleeves and inspires others to rise to the occasion and help to build a truly sustainable and inclusive future!

When Johanna Schäfer was working on her bachelor thesis in the field of architecture and urban spaces 3 years ago, she already committed herself to the future of Bonn, the city she is living in since she went to kindergarten. Influenced by the anthroposophical principles of the university she attended, the young and talented woman saw the need for a city lab and consequently founded BonnLAB in 2016, shortly after her graduation.

“BonnLAB is an urban living room where people can meet in a pleasant environment and talk about their own projects as well as big issues of the city and our future.”

Her tireless enthusiasm for a better future and an incredible ability to see and establish connections between all the different areas of social and urban life enable her to keep going, even without official funding.

“I decided not to wait for the municipality, but to build the structures myself.”

Johanna is a woman of action, she single-handedly organises events, hosts Meetups and DIY workshops for citizens, and expands her offers to match her numerous ideas on sustainability and a livable urban future. By offering a unique mixture of consultations in the field of urban development, social media as well as business and personal development she finances the whole project. Besides, everyone can rent the premises of BonnLAB for private or professional events. As a master of networking and communication, she found the missing link that many modern city and city residents are struggling with and filled it with BonnLAB.

“My niche is to show what is already there, to inform about all the great initiatives and possibilities we already have, and to support and facilitate community and cultural participation!”

No project is too small for her and BonnLAB provides space for everyone. The city lab offers lots of different programs, from food and clothes sharing to learning how to create your own makeup to hosting Hackathon events and more.

In the beginning, this open-minded and inclusive concept was problematic and challenging for some citizens. Many were afraid that the place might be taken over by homeless people and outcasts. However, those fears quickly disappeared and turned into excitement about the inclusiveness and possibilities to build connections across all social and economic classes.

“Everyone who comes to BonnLAB notices that the people always come first here. The sense of community is important and everyone listens to and is interested in one another here!”

Johanna uses her instinct for what is needed to help wherever there is a lack of resources, information or support. While she locally coaches and works with students, unemployed people, freelancers and people with all kinds of profession, she always keeps the bigger picture in mind. In 2017, when the Climate Change Conference took place in Bonn, she proactively went to the mayor´s office to initiate a free and private hosting program for young and old people from all around the world. Through her idea, around 600 people have been hosted for free during COP23 by citizens of Bonn and by doing so they learned something about climate change and started an intercultural dialogue.

Another initiative within the scope of BonnLAB is KAINGA, which stands for creative exchange, interdisciplinary networking and working together. With this social and business group she encourages people to step out of the isolation that a modern city life often implicates and join forces on a daily basis.

Her vision for the future is like her work. On the one hand, she has an extraordinarily detailed and practical approach to improve every area of society, whether it is geriatric care, education, architecture or agriculture. On the other hand, everything is motivated by seeing the need for a real shift towards sustainability on a broader level, which would include fundamentally rethinking our current modus operandi.

“There are already so many great alternative systems, but unfortunately they are often kept small and insignificant. Like a sponge, my job is to absorb great things that already exist and find a voice for it or translate it for people to notice!” Communication and interdisciplinary are crucial for Johanna´s work and also tools for her to achieve her dream of a sustainable and livable future for everyone.


I love my city because we have great CityChangers here.

I am a very communicative person.

The best work-related decision I ever took was to follow my heart and my passion.

It is worth to try new things because they will teach you valuable lessons.
Every city should listen to its citizens.

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