The future is now for urban development, at least in one Canadian city. London, Ontario is making news with its novel use of virtual reality (VR) to show the city's residents what a new development will look like before it is ever built.

The VR program, which first debuted at this year's Ribfest, showed volunteers a digital model of Victoria Park (where Ribfest takes place), surrounded by proposed highrise buildings. 

The program did more than just offer a look at what the buildings would look like. It also showed people how their shadows would fall across the park. Users were also able to toggle through different looks based on several different proposals the city was looking at.

Michelle Knieriem works in the London City Planning office, and told CBC News, "For some people, it helped to reaffirm the opinions they already had. Whereas other people said 'I was concerned about this, but you know what? This could actually work.'"

Using VR for urban planning can have even more applications in terms of building new developments. For example, using VR to visualize how a new office building will affect traffic in the area. Ariel Noyman, a researcher with the City Science project at the MIT Media Lab, told CityLab, "We want people to be able to physically visualize congestion."

VR and AR (augmented reality) can also be used to help restore historic buildings and structures. AR, which adds digital displays on a person's view of the real world, is especially useful in this regard.

Of course, the biggest advantage of using VR in city planning is allowing the average citizen to see firsthand how new buildings will affect the look of certain neighbourhoods. "It's impossible to visualize unless you're on the ground," Knieriem told CBC. "It helps to better inform our perspective and the recommendations we're making."

This is just another example of how technology is not just changing people's everyday lives, but also how the places where they live can grow and change over time.

Residents of London will be able to use the VR system to see the potential changes around Victoria Park at St. Peter's Basilica Cathedral, Auditorium – 533 Clarence Street on Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2019 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.


There are stories everywhere. If you spot a newsworthy event in your city, send us a message, photo, or video @NarcityCanada on Twitter and Instagram.


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