Future Cities: Enabling Communities to design their own neighbourhoods and towns

An aspect of significant importance in the on-going digital transformation is about enablement of the two important levers of business advantage - self-sufficiency and collaboration. While there are quite a few examples of these in the world of products and services people consume, what is yet to come is the innovation practice where citizens collaborate with city administrations to design their own neighbourhoods and boroughs the live in or intend to live.

For a number of years the research community in sustainable city planning and design has been working on developing tools for such a possibility with varied and staggering success.

In early 2015 we formed a team, named it Urbanetic and decided to build a commercially viable tool that would use emerging techniques in machine intelligence, data science and an array of data (hard, soft, big, small, spatial, instrumented virtual, physical) to procedurally model new or renew old neighbourhoods, within weeks, working together with the city municipal councils.

These neighbourhoods would not just be artistic impressions or nice looking massing models but data rich 3D master plans that with a click of a button would come alive, and could be measured and simulated for environmental, economic and social impact and financial feasibility. A digital prototype of a neighbourhood with which one could talk or interact with.

From disparate sources of data provided by the Melbourne City Council, the state of Victoria and the property market, we were able to build a prototype in 8 months with our internally developed rendering engine, a data conversion engine and an unified data model that would combine the world of GIS and CAD / BIM . And thus, a parametric modeling tool was born which even an untrained architect or planner could use to explore analyse and visualize cities in 3D.

Though the original idea was to build a web based collaborative planning tool, for professionals, when we saw the early version, we quickly realised the power, the tool gives city planning and design, to people it really belongs to - The community. The attached video link shows the early prototype, nearly an year ag

We still have a long way to go, but what it shows is an idea that is going to transform the way we are going to design build and manage our cities in the future – perhaps an idea worth spreading.