Digital cities are a topic of high interest today. While they have been discussed for a number of years, technological developments, particularly in the area of 3D and remote sensing have propelled them forward. While geographic information systems (GIS) are natural integrator’s of spatial information, their role in spatial data infrastructure (SDI) is well known. A line runs between digital cities and SDI that is closing quickly. How can digital cities and SDI connect?
|Digital cities are a topic of high interest today. While they have been discussed for a number of years, technological developments, particularly in the area of 3D and remote sensing have propelled them forward. While geographic information systems (GIS) are natural integrator’s of spatial information, their role in spatial data infrastructure (SDI) is well known. A line runs between digital cities and SDI that is closing quickly. How can digital cities and SDI connect?
Digital cities are discussed regularly today, although many people define them in different ways and understand them in numerous ways. There are GIS digital cities, CAD digital cities, visualisation digital cities and database digital cities. Depending on the spatial sunglasses that one is wearing, different approaches for enumerating digital content suitable for digital city work are also presented. We have a bit of work to do yet on nailing down the description or meaning of a digital city, but it is fair to say we are in the infancy of the movement and that will come in due course – like almost every other new geospatial awakening.
Conceptually many of grasp the idea that digital cities are integrated environments. They combine data fdrom a multitude of sources, cross disciplinary boundaries readily and necessitate higher levels of collaboration, interoperability and new perspectives for governance.The basic idea is to integrate digital geodata around a single, accessible, and multi-purposed model. Perhaps it is dream, but maybe not – too early to tell.
SDI are similarly hard to nail down in terms of definitions and the limitations or extents of what is contained within them. Ask ten people around Europe what SDI means, and one is likely to get different answers. I am not certain that we need one designed SDI approach for all things.
That is, SDI embody some specific elements pertaining to data types, but the governance of them is likely to transcend local to international governments and involve so many kinds of data, applications and different people, that filtering all of of this into one SDI bottle seems unlikely.
Most of the people working on SDI related projects that I have seen, are succeeding at the trans-boundary level and their projects are small. They are learning the steps about how to work together, how to share geospatial information and what governance avenues are acceptable for pursuing different options. These projects seem to be working smoother than I would have expected, I am surprised at the good progress many of them are making.
Much of the spatial information that people are using when discussing SDI evolves from currently existing information. By the time the projects are nearing completion, there are almost always recommendations (wishes) for other kinds of data and applications. That, by the way, is one telltale signal of a successful SDI project.
Today we see lots of tools and technologies oriented toward the capture of 3D digital city models. Many people are attempting to integrate spatial information across regions. Their successes are largely attributed to how well they can break down internal barriers to access geodata for inclusion into wider digital city models. But new technologies, particularly in the remote sensing and laser technology fields are significant contributor’s toward rapid data capture in 3D (in some respects a Department of Digital City 3D should be in every large city).
This means that our ability to capture 3D spatial information and to develop applications for this information is now exceeding our capability to generate the 3D digital city models themselves. But aren’t we used to this scenario? Afterall, GIS was discussed for years and years before people ‘got it’.
The building of useful 3D digital city models will undoubtedly involve maintaining the attributes associated with location, and that will also trigger a huge modelling and visualisation application future. All of the current SDI projects that are resulting in new dreams, wishes and understanding upon completion are the fuel for a system of developing digital cities. Those SDI projects (which need more funding I think) are the building blocks for integrated human thinking, trans-boundary understanding and the development of new organisational structure needs that enable 3D digital cities.
I seriously question if the 1990’s thinking working together is the answer. I don’t think so. But I do think that the small and intermediate size groups we currently see in Europe who are working on SDI topics, are the testbeds and ingredients for future city models.
They involve new approaches, use tools and geodata in new ways, are flexible and more often than not, they have different cultures, mindsets and knowledge coming together. Multi-disciplinary is nature, they are slow moving at times, demand patience and require a willingness to fail at times. But that is exactly why they offer the possibility for bridging SDI threads into digital city model threads – forming strong fabrics.
Digital city models need to translate their existence into an alignment with human goals, often basic in nature such as infrastructural related. SDI need to translate their appearance of slow moving, cumbersome and misunderstood nature into the threads of digital environments, charged with human goals.
I think digital city models and SDI are much more closer together than many of us sometimes realise.
Jeff Thurston is editor of V1 Magazine and V1 Energy Magazine for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Vector1 Media. He is based in Berlin.