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Computer graphics allows for the digital replication of reality and can be as simplistic as a map or as complex as an interactive 3D model of a city. Everyday use of computer graphics in the private sector use programs such as Adobe Illustrator, GIS, and AutoCAD for map making and aerial image manipulation.

HTML and multimedia platforms allow for dynamic representation and have increasingly become more common. Simulations are currently created by real estate developers rather than by municipalities, however many municipalities are increasingly finding value and return on investment with simulations. Urban simulations, on a large scale, are not generally constructed by private entities due to time and budget constraints but the university setting provides opportunities for research, novel implementation, and collaboration between government and academia. An example of the government partnership is the Virtual Los Angles project at UCLA. As far back as 1997, the UCLA team created a real-time simulation of the San Francisco Bay Bridge to assist in a decision about the bridge, where a design flaw immediately became discernible. The simulation helped city officials avoid bad press for the city by changing the $1.3 billion dollar design. "The demonstration was the centerpiece of a California Transportation Department (Caltrans) campaign to help citizens swallow the bitter pill of higher taxes and increased tolls, which were needed to finance a replacement of the earthquake-weakened bridge."[Read this complete article].

An example of
a consultancy VR project for community engagement can be found at HACAS Virtual Reality for Community Regeneration.

University Contributions to Urban Simulation Technology

University research labs are employing simulation VR technology and are the guiding force behind professional visualization methodology.

The Centre for Advanced Studies in Architecture, University of Bath, U.K. employed VR to assist in public participation. The center received positive feedback from their simulations because they made information easier for the public to understand. This project was executed several years ago and does not take into effect the recent success of tele-immersion (or shared VR environments.) [More can be read about the successes of employing VR in England, see VIRTUAL REALITY: A COMMUNICATION TOOL FOR URBAN PLANNING.]

The following paragraph is from this web article highlighting significant university contributions to urban simulations.

"Following the expansion of the Internet, the World Wide Web (WWW) and current trends in the industry, VR versions of the Bath and London models have been used on various research projects, employing Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) as well as custom made non-immersive VR applications (Day et al, 1996). The Bath database is, to the author’s knowledge, the largest and most detailed one produced as yet. Worldwide, there have been many attempts in computer modeling urban spaces at city scale. The UCLA Urban Simulation Team of the Dept. of Architecture and Urban Design (AUD), following the design of the Urban Simulator (Liggett et al, 1995), is currently building a model of the entire Los Angeles basin. Virtual L.A. covers an area in excess of 10000 square miles as part of "The Virtual World Data Server Project". This ambitious program, once completed, is intended to be used for urban simulations as well as 3D interactive visualizations of various data forms. In Berlin, the urban development and architecture unit of ART+COM has created the CyberCity Berlin and the Planwerk Berlin (a 3D masterplan for the city) employing new media in town planning drawing from their research on communication in city planning. In the UK, one of the first comprehensive urban models was that of Glasgow constructed by ABACUS at the Strathclyde University in the mid 80ies. Recently, the University College of London (UCL) Department of Geography has embarked in a large-scale project researching on ways of producing built environments using VR systems focusing on London. Approaching the topic from a historic viewpoint, ABACUS have subsequently constructed a model of Edinburgh Old Town (Grant, 1993) and CASA has produced a model of mediaeval Bath, based in old maps and drawings of the city (Day, 1994). Finally, a number of companies have addressed the problem of 3D urban modelling for commercial applications, tourism and entertainment (Virtual Soma—the first virtual city on the Internet in August 1995, Bigbook, Virtual Derby, etc). It is also important to point out research work investigating abstract data representations based on architectural notions of space such as Vector Zero carried out in co-operation with Silicon Graphics Inc (SGI). Such works are vital sources of information on the future of VR in urban planning with particular focus on local authority strategies and policies deployment since they provide new ways of structuring and presenting information."

The Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) is an initiative within the University College London to develop emerging computer technologies in several disciplines which deal with geography, space, location and the built environment.

Knowledge is Power

While these developments are making progress in the employment of VR simulations in the planning profession, more research is needed to create a planning support system or database cluster in which all 3D data is stored and related to other information (through metadata), immediately accessible, and can be projected for interactive use by decision makers and the public. However, people do not like to share their data so this might be a utopian dream. In his paper, The Role of Virtual Reality and Urban Simulation in Urban Planning, David Simpson points out, "A more complicated problem to solve is the need to train members of the profession in the use of modeling and simulation to advance planning decisions. Very few planning schools offer visualization and modeling training to planning graduates. The fact that the technology has advanced has not meant that the academy, and more so not the profession, has advanced with it. The ability to create, project, and interact with 3D visual simulations is the next logical step in the application of technology to current theory in planning practice. " David M Simpson is currently the Associate Director of the Center for Hazards Research and Policy Development, and Assistant Professor of Planning, at the University of Louisville, in the School of Urban and Public Affairs. He conducts research in the areas of Technology, Land Use Planning, and Hazards.

This is an image from the Virtual Harlem project, a collaborative project between UIC and several universities. This project was used to tell a story about the cultural contributions of Harlem, New York at the turn of the century.
Image provided by J. Leigh, EVL: http://www.evl.uic.edu/cavern/harlem/

Computer Graphics & Urban Planning
  What is Virtual Reality?
  What is a CAVE and why use it?
  VR & the Web
  Current & Future state of VR
  Ongoing projects
Overview of Classes & Program
  Newspace versus EVL computers
Project Fundamentals
  Collect Data
  Construct Models
  Apply Textures
  Program Interactivity
  Output to Display Device