Open Urban Planning: CityScope | An interactive LEGO City | MIT’s MediaLab

CityScope Project is a powerful tool created by MIT’s MediaLab that uses augmented reality to quickly and simply model the effects of large-scale urban-planning decisions, allowing urban planning to be more accessible to everyone. The technology employs TIM, a tangible-interactive rapid prototyping environment for matrices of data. TIM uses an array of optically tagged LEGO bricks on the tabletop with overhead projectors that beam color-coded metrics onto each brick: a combination of computer vision and 3D projection mapping.

Overview from MIT’s MediaLab: “We develop simulation systems to predict and quantify the potential impact of disruptive interventions within new and existing cities. We place a special emphasis on augmented reality decision support systems (ARDSS) that facilitate non-expert stakeholder collaboration within complex urban environments. Such systems blend hardware, software, human interface design, cloud computation, and variants of so-called big data. “CityScope” is an open source platform for shared, interactive computation.”

This technology works at follows: every LEGO piece has a special chip that communicates with the overhead projectors, which beams metrics affected by each decision onto the new configuration. So, chips of each brick are assigned a user-determined variable such as “150-unit residential building,” “2-ha park” or “4-lane road”; and other variables such as walkability, access to jobs, housing or open space can easily be estimated in the following way: once assembled on the tabletop, the objects are able to represent an existing neighborhood, city or region, and users are able to pick up and insert, move or remove individual components while this changes to the city are visually revealed in real-time by changing color-codes projected onto the pieces. For example, if you placed a “150-unit residential building” piece onto a previously empty plot of land, the color of the street in front of the new building would change to indicate a quantifiable increase in traffic density. Thus, users from any background can configure the table collaboratively.

Perhaps, the most important value of this technology as a tool of management and governance is the ability to offer information about specific locations: building legislation, transportation systems, walkability, access to jobs, etc. The CityScope method is well suited to model the physical effects of zoning and building regulations, and it can be considered as a repository for hyper-local concerns, public meetings regarding zoning or building projects, allowing planners to easily communicate with their constituency in a more clear and accurate manner.

In conclusion, the beauty and perhaps the most important feature of CityScope rests in its ease of understanding and simplicity of use, being a great example of a technology that adapts to the actions of people instead of the other way around. In other words, allowing urban issues to be more accessible for everyone and providing a much higher level of transparency and accountability than we are used to today.

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