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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Urban visualization tools : opportunities for developing visual computer support for public participation processes Alkire, Laurence Masa


This thesis examines the potential for developing and using urban visualization tools in planning practice. The thesis asks the questions: are visualization tools effective additions to public participation processes and how could this type of tool be made more effective? Informing an audience of community members of potential changes to the urban environment is one of the most difficult tasks in planning. Visualization technologies have the potential to be a catalyst for discussion, constructive debate and decision-making in community participation processes. Presently communicating visual information is problematic because of the wide range of visual literacy and skills within any community. Visual simulation tools can be an 'accessibility aid' and thus facilitate discussion and increase understanding of proposed change. Visualization tools could also be used to present information from GIS and other database sources. The thesis reviews literature and on-line information on urban planning projects that have utilized computer visualizations. The literature review consists of two parts: first, a review of theory and second, a review of papers on projects that have involved computer visual simulation of urban environments. Personal and email interviews were conducted with individuals using and developing computerized planning support tools. Four case studies are evaluated and suggestions are made on their effectiveness. The opportunities presented by visualization tools include: • Increased ability to offer background information and information on demand to participants in a public process. • The Computer can be used to generate more photorealistic images than traditional graphic methods. • Increased information and visual capabilities potentially allow more complex issues be covered within a public participation process. • Visualization tools allow quick production and modification of perspective images. The thesis identifies the following constraints of visualization tools: • Computers are not well suited for direct use in public processes. The machines are designed for one user and public processes involve communication between many people. • Information in a community process needs to be easily accessible. Many participants in neighborhood planning processes are not comfortable with using computers. • Computers are not always reliable in 'live' situations. It is risky to rely on a machine as technical problems are common. The thesis concludes that the most beneficial visualization tool to a community consultation process is not the most technically advanced tool. The preferred tool is the one most sensitive to the needs of the process. Future development should focus on the informational needs of public consultation and using readily available technology to meet these needs. Leaving major technical development to the private sector and focusing on applying existing technology is a better focus for planning researchers interested in participatory computer tools.

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