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Virtual Reality in Urban Design

Apr 27, 2022 | Virtual reality and architecture

While virtual reality (VR) began in the entertainment and gaming industry, its possibilities are continuously being explored in many other industries, not the least of which is virtual reality in urban design. Increasingly, VR is being used by planners and architects to create more accurate and engaging simulations of proposed buildings and landscapes, making it easier to catch errors and review new ideas more quickly.

VR can help city officials better assess the potential effects of new constructions like traffic and public transportation projects.

What Is Urban Planning?

Urban planning is the process of designing and managing the physical structure of a city or town. It encompasses aspects such as land use, transportation, environmental protection, and public health. Urban planners must take into account the needs of different groups who live in a city, including residents, businesses, and government officials.

Good urban planning can make cities more livable and sustainable. It can also promote economic growth and create jobs. Unfortunately, many cities around the world are facing problems such as traffic, air pollution, and poverty. Urban planners are challenged to find innovative ways to solve these problems.

What Is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is an artificial, three-dimensional environment that can be created with or without the use of special equipment. Today, it mostly employs digital visualization technologies. VR technology has been around for a while but has only recently become more popular with the development of headsets that allow users to immerse themselves in artificial environments.

There are many potential applications for VR technology, including education and healthcare. Some experts believe that VR could eventually replace traditional screens as the primary way that people consume content, but many now see how it could help physicians, scientists, urban planners, architects, and engineers in recreating the environments they work in.

The Uses of Virtual Reality in Urban Design

The application of virtual reality in urban design architecture can be used to create functional spaces from small communities to larger regions by using computer-generated three-dimensional models. This can help people interact with potential spaces and troubleshoot possible issues before construction. 

The opportunity to better immerse professionals in proposed designs can also help them make better decisions about important aspects like zoning, traffic, and public transportation. 

How Will the Community Participate in Virtual Urban Design?

The participation of communities in urban planning is necessary because it empowers and motivates communities to maintain and take care of public spaces. An active and engaged community can be depended on to spearhead and facilitate initiatives like making cities more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

In several countries such as the United States, Norway and South Africa, urban planners are looking for ways to encourage greater involvement among communities. To accomplish this, dialogues, facilitative leadership, and consensus-building have been enacted. 

Urban Design Development

Effective urban design and development require a process that goes through specific stages to achieve the intended result. In the early stages, data is collected, organized, and run through different processes such as information and content finding as well as project management. 

Stakeholders such as ordinary citizens might participate in structured briefings and workshops. Other ways of maintaining community participation include working with small groups like activists and experts. They will then be immersed in a  virtual environment and provide feedback so that the design can meet expectations and will be used to resolve issues. 

There are three “levels” that measure the participation of a community: 

  • The lowest levels focus on the public’s right to know and to be informed of the design. 
  • The medium level includes community participation in assessing the risks, recommending solutions, and defining the interests and the agenda of the project. 
  • The highest level of community participation includes being part of the final decision and direct involvement in the design assessment and process. 

These three levels can employ participatory and empathetic community involvement.

Participatory Planning

Virtual reality in urban design is a great tool in participatory planning, which involves the entire community in planning urban landscapes. It focuses on the collective while focusing on partnership and engagement. All final decisions are based on the interaction of all stakeholders. It involves overcoming stresses and conflicts as well as arriving at harmonious objectives for all. 

In participatory planning, VR is used to create a simulated environment that evaluates how these objectives affect design.

Participatory planning using VR can affect the physical appearance of structures, the strength and durability of the materials used, and how construction can affect the physical environment. 

Empathetic Planning 

Empathetic planning uses VR to encourage communities to have more personal involvement in urban planning. It explores how communities react and are affected by new developments in their urban or rural landscape. Empathetic planning is still in its early stages, but many researchers are hoping that it will give a different view on planning urban landscapes and smart cities

VR technology allows users to record personal stories and histories, creating a collective and virtual memory of the city. These will then be used to build more inclusive projects that respect the connection between the communities and their environment and culture. 

What’s the Role of Virtual Reality in Urban Design?

VR in construction design is an immersive experience that can be used to plan and design cities. It can help city planners see how new buildings and public spaces will look and feel, and identify potential problems before they happen. VR can also be used to show people what a city will look like after a major renovation or redevelopment project.

Urban planners can then visualize their projects and study their impact on the environment and existing infrastructure. VR and other visualization technologies are expected to play a role in the planning and development industry. 2D and 3D models are now becoming an integral part of design even if certain issues need addressing such as integration and data storage. Despite these concerns, virtual reality in urban design is fast becoming an indispensable tool for the industry.

How Does Virtual Reality Contribute to Smart Cities?

What are smart cities? Smart cities aim to address challenges in sustainability by gathering data using information and communication technology (ICT) or smart city technology. This information can then be shared with the public and can be used to increase a city’s operational efficiency. It can also be used to deliver better government services and improve the welfare of its residents.

The data required by smart city urban design can be overwhelming to collect and process. The European smart city model cites six foundations for a city to be smart: mobility, environment, governance, quality of life, economy, and people. These pillars need to be smart as well in terms of planning and management. Urban problems are required to have solutions that don’t create more problems for the environment or the people.

Creating a smart city with these qualities requires that massive amounts of data be integrated into the city design. Stakeholders, from politicians to ordinary citizens, must understand how all data might affect them. This is where VR steps in and reveals how data affects design.

VR is a tool for showcasing urban designs while highlighting how people and the environment will be affected by their construction. They can simulate these scenarios with VR technology and identify improvements and necessary changes. This is why 3D Architectural Rendering is so important for urban planning.

These simulated scenarios are vital in stress testing construction projects, especially when it comes to sustainability. VR can test various scenarios whether physical, environmental, economic or physical. The experiential nature of the technology is significant since it empowers city engineers, planners, designers, and other urban design professionals to address possible issues even before a project starts.

How Does Virtual Reality Make Use of GIS Data?

Virtual reality, in urban design, can be used to view 3D models of real-world locations. VR technology uses Geographic Information System (GIS) data to create these 3D models and display them in an interactive environment. This allows users to explore a location in great detail as if they were there.

GIS data can include information about the shape and size of a location, its elevation, and other features. This information is used to create a realistic virtual environment that accurately represents the real world. In fact, plenty of researchers believe the inclusion of virtual reality will greatly benefit urban planning and data management.

There is now software that uses GIS data. They incorporate residential data, historical traffic data, and even real-time data which is then translated into 3D models of certain locations. 

The combination of VR and GIS data gives urban planners a realistic visualization based on real-world data. It can help designers, architects, and engineers detect patterns and forecast problems in design whether it’s regarding the movement of traffic or the construction of a new building. 

Virtual Reality Can Make Cities Better

Virtual reality is an important aspect of smart city development. It can provide a realistic, simulated environment for city planners and officials to test new projects and ideas without actually having to implement them in the real world. This can save time, money, and resources.

VR can also be used to help citizens become more engaged in smart city initiatives. For example, they can use VR to view the impact of new policies or learn about new services that are being offered. This can help encourage community participation and engagement.

With the use of virtual reality in urban design, governments and countries can build better cities that are more effective at addressing local issues, concerns, and environments. It can help urban planners, architects and designers build cities that aren’t just sustainable and environment-friendly, but are also economically viable and offer a high quality of living for the people within them.

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