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Jeff Thurston — "I’m not sure that city models would
adequately serve the purpose of a base map for numerous reasons, the
most obvious being that they do not cover rural areas. A cadastral
survey in my view is the foundation upon which the complexity of
sustainable development can take place. However, city models have the
potential to revolutionize how cities are managed and operated."

Matt Ball — "We’re slowly entering a new era where large-scale investment in
high-resolution 3D models will change how we interact with
representations of our world. All disciplines that make a living
planning, constructing and managing the built environment will
increasingly work through shared models."

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 I’m not sure that city models would
adequately serve the purpose of a base map for numerous reasons, the
most obvious being that they do not cover rural areas. A cadastral
survey in my view is the foundation upon which the complexity of
sustainable development can take place. However, city models have the
potential to revolutionize how cities are managed and operated.

Technically a base or cadastral map are similar and are
usually geo-referenced areas with extents upon which other geospatial
data can be placed. But a cadastral survey is different, it provides a
legal framework of ownership upon the measured divisions.

first has no legal issues implied in its creation, while the later
does. While I might like 3D city models, I don’t view socialist land
ownership as having been all that successful as a way to build, operate
and maintain cities. Land ownership is an integral and valued component
of any society that wishes to build a sustainable landscape model.
Operation and management veer from cadastral surveying.

Operation and Management of Cities
Most of our cities are failing as sustainable models on the
basis of operation and maintenance. They have been built on systems
that are historical in nature, endured many changes in both physical
structure and financial budgets to support them. Personnel have
changed, legacy data exists in many departments and often the left hand
and right hand do not have a clue what the other is doing.

In these cases, for example, the transportation
department gathers, processes and manages its own databases of spatial
information; so does the water department and the electrical
department, parks and recreation, environment and so on. The sheer
weight of independent operations within a single entity – the city –
causes sparks to fly, big fights at budget time, neighborhoods started
without schools for 20 years and water systems that get replaced as
areas grow, even slowly. All the while the roads are ripped up again
and again and again, enough times to make one dizzy. These events are
expressions of poor processes, poor operation and management systems,
power struggles within and between communities and people as well as a
host of other factors. I am sure most people know what I am talking
about. In fairness, there are a few places that recognized this and
have changed – no painting all the cities as bad here.

The Promise of e-Government and Efficiency
For many years now we have been hearing about e-Government and
interoperability, holistic planning and sustainable communities. Each
of us has envisioned a ‘new way of doing things’ even minutely,
incrementally. We have asked ourselves, “why don’t all those utility
folks get their act together and stop ripping up the roads – all they
need is some planning?” True, although sometimes events happen
requiring work, but for the most part – so true. We have asked, “why
can’t I pay for things online, get all my services together and so on?”
In those cases where citizens are truly curious they have gone further,
wanting to fly through buildings under development, see where the pipes
are underground and the temperature within the neighbourhood.

The link between the systems that operate and manage
the resources of our cities, are all things that we are interested in.
We want to see our cities, understand them better and what is going on
in them. How can we expect to build them in a sustainable way if we

The changes needed to deliver the services and
operations we dream about, are real. But they are changes in the
processes and work flows of a city. We need a way to see, understand
and conceptualize what it is that we are doing in cities. We need a way
to easily acquire the data about them, the maps, the charts, the
statistics and all other data – which brings them closer to our minds –
so we can own them (think cadastral like here).

If we take ownership of the places we live in, then we
are more likely to invest in them toward a sustainable way of operation
and management. Sustainable cities and rural areas should nourish us,
pay us wages, provide recreation, clean air and water and make us smile.

The Concept of a City Model
Geospatial technologies have clear routes for planning, building and
maintaining sustainable cities. On the basis of a city as a model,
these technologies provide the raw data for modeling their physical
elements, but also provide the operating and planning data for their

Today, in my view, if your city does not have the tools
of CAD, GIS and GPS at its disposal centrally, as part of the planning
and operating process, you cannot build a city for the future. Your
competition, other cities, who do have these tools, can show
visualizations, 3D models, regional carbon footprints, neighborhood
insurance maps, broadband links to a myriad of thematic mapping and
cartographic products and even design tools.

These are not just fancy tools – they are the tools
upon which modern cities are developed and which attract people,
industry and tourism toward a city. They enable higher productivity in
cities, lower costs of service delivery and improved options for
participating in living and owning.

As I heard earlier this week at the Open Geospatial
Consortium (OGC) Interoperability Days in Potsdam, Germany; 3D city
models are being held back due to a lack of standardization. While they
make for great fly-throughs and nice pictures, a 3D city model has the
potential to provide all the functions I mentioned above – and many
more. The reason city models are held back is because buildings and
homes are individually owned, forming communities. And… no one wants to
build on a cadastral survey that has not been standardized within a legal framework. Voila – this goes back to ownership.

Putting a City Model Into 4th Gear
It is not enough to simply have a city model. That model must be
embedded within the governance of a city such that it crosses
departments, causing utilities, parks and financial departments and so
on – to work from the same city model. That is, the underlying data
must be dependable, suitable, re-usable and applicable to the needs of
all departments – but also residents.

Think of a city model as a conduit to participation.
Operations, management and communication all take place on it, back and
forth and sideways. Even other neighborhoods, regions and countries
(this is where SDI start I would suggest).

Be patient. City models are all about process. They are
started and added to, never completed and never ending. The truly aware
will recognize that costs for geospatial technology and personnel ought
to be amortized into city infrastructure and the tax structure over the
long run. This would change the focus of purchasing technology as a
one-off and subject to budgetary or personal whim to a system where
these technologies are integral components of a city spatial model.

Viewed as integral components to city operations, they would be funded within overall city infrastructure costs.

Geospatial Technologies and City Models
The concept of a city model is not new. Urban planners have been
angling toward this for a long time. What is new is the coupling of
modern geotechnologies to all those planners dreams. Today they are no
longer dreams. Some real problems relating to high costs of oil,
pollution, high cost services, crime, transportation and infrastructure
– and security – are all approachable – through the efficiency and
effectiveness of spatial city models.

The real-time nature of data and technologies will see
greater use of imaging technologies, sensors, personal observations,
GPS and a host of robotics and artifical intelligence coupled to them
that we can only imagine right now.

To answer the question, the central element I think, revolves around the concept of ownership.
People need to see geospatial technology as a force that enables
personal ownership, both real and imagined – which  empowers them to
seek change. A spatial city model is the primary link to tomorrow’s


We’re slowly entering a new era where large-scale investment in
high-resolution 3D models will change how we interact with
representations of our world. All disciplines that make a living
planning, constructing and managing the built environment will
increasingly work through shared models. Digital city models have the
attention of design software vendors, and the creation of rich,
near-virtual 3D models will get much easier and cheaper as a result.

The idea of a highly-detailed and large-scale city model goes back
centuries, but most previous attempts have faltered because the costs
were too high to update and maintain the model. With a static model,
the purpose and use of the model are very limiting. The digital
approach provides the means for incremental update, adding layers of
detail and realism to approximate reality.

The digital city model plays heavily into achieving greater
livability and efficiency, aligning with the increasing will to better
manage our environment. The time is right for increased investment in
research and development of 3D city model creation tools, and there are
many places that these dollars will have an impact.

3D Data Capture
New tools are adding a great deal of realism with much less human
interaction, adding automation to the 3D data collection process. With
automated tools, the speed for data capture and data update makes the
creation of large-scale models inevitable.

Laser scanning from both an aerial and land-based platform is a
quickly growing phenomenon. These tools marry point clouds with color
imagery to create highly detailed models of existing structures.
There’s a growing movement to fuse both aerial and terrestrial LIDAR
imagery to create models of large scale. I understand that there’s an
outfit in Paris, France that is creating such a model, and I’m certain
that it will be a growing trend.

Photogrammetry is another approach to create rich 3D environments
quite quickly, but at somewhat of lower quality than LIDAR. Automated
processing, such as Microsoft is undertaking for model creation in
Virtual Earth, have meant a phenomenal increase in the number of models
that can be created in a relatively short time.

Both technologies point to the role of hardware for data capture at
large scale. Hardware investment to streamline and speed 3D data
capture will continue. For instance, self-registering terrestrial LIDAR
scanners will eliminate the need for a surveyor to run these systems,
democratizing data capture and potentially adding an army of model
creators for a host of industries.

Modeling Software
The capability to create and visualize a rich 3D reality will
proliferate within many different software tools. It’s unlikely that
GIS, CAD or BIM will be a predominant tool for all 3D modeling tasks.
These tools will evolve for somewhat specialized model creation
purposes, but models will, and should, be interchangeable within these
various toolsets.

Without a centralized repository for city models, the one-off model
for projects has prevailed. Model repositories will advance
considerably, adding real-time inputs for dynamic processes in order to
better evaluate and test plans against real-world parameters. Such
inputs as weather, traffic, transport, physics, water flow, energy
consumption, etc. will add a level of realism for greater measurement
and management of our world.

The addition of dynamic processes will create visually striking
environments where shadows cross the virtual landscapes and where wind
bends the plants and trees. The ability to turn these items on or off,
adjust levels of intensity, and simulate time of day, will make the
digital city model a very compelling simulation environment.

Extended Design Space
Added model realism will enable the ultimate design proving ground.
Models of infrastructure and buildings will be placed within their
virtual surroundings and tested to see if they perform as expected.
Projections of lifecycle, and adaptation to growth pressures, will be
something that we’ll be able to model in order to make certain we make
the wisest investments.

The ability to take a building, campus or neighborhood model and
check in any changes into the model space, will provide incredible
planning and construction insights. With the virtual reality as an
extension to design space, designers and planners will have greater
confidence in their decisions and more public awareness and support for
their projects.

Fit for Many Purposes
The digital city model may have been slow to adoption because of cost
and a lack of understanding on how it would be applied. The GIS camp
may look at the model and wonder how they can utilize it. The model
designers have long understood the value of the model, but they
typically finish the model and then just place it on a shelf.

We’re reaching a critical tipping point where larger,
highly-detailed 3D models will be demanded because of multiple fit for
purpose. Interoperability among many disciplines will be required to
reach this stage, and there are issues of quality standards and
liability that need to be worked out. But large-scale and highly
detailed digital city models are truly becoming an inevitability, and
it’s an exciting point in time that will see rapid advancement on many


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