3-D Modeling Turns Citizens into City Planners

A 3-D model of Louisville, Ky.’s downtown buildings allows citizens to share ideas for developing an improved city.

by / September 25, 2012
3-D printers created scaled-down replicas of buildings in Louisville, Ky.'s downtown area. Photo courtesy of the office of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

What will your city look like in 25 years? Will it have taller buildings? More advanced public transportation? To help answer some of these questions, Louisville, Ky., Mayor Greg Fischer launched a 25-year vision initiative to allow citizens to provide feedback on how the city should be shaped in coming years, and with a little help from technology, can get a better idea of what the city’s urban landscape and other components could be like years from now.

“All great cities, from Paris to New York, have developed visions and then worked to implement them,” Fischer said in a statement. “This project will allow us to imagine the Louisville of the future — our parks, our arts, neighborhoods and public transit.”

As part of the new initiative, called Vision Louisville, the city obtained a 3-D design from a local architect of what is considered a large portion of Louisville’s downtown area. The city took the model of its downtown and used five 3-D printers — which were donated by a private citizen — to create smaller-scale replicas of the buildings.

The 3-D model was seen last week when Louisville hosted the IdeaFestival, a four-day event for citizens to share ideas about the city through a series of activities. The 3-D printers were set up so the public could share ideas about the model and adjust the layout of the buildings to determine how alternate designs would look, said Tommy Clark, an urban planner for the city.

Using 3-D modeling to view the layout of the city’s downtown gives a better visualization than drawing a map or other 2-D methods, Clark said. During IdeaFestival, citizens were able to move the building replicas around to get a better sense of how the city would look if buildings are removed or added.

“If you want to take the largest building in Louisville and remove it and put something else in there, and look at the 3-D elements maybe another building may do — you get a whole new perspective when it’s in 3-D,” Clark said.

He said like with most professions, urban planning and architecture is relying more on the use of technology, and 3-D printing may be just the tool to help take these professions into the future.

Vision Louisville

According to Louisville, the mayor’s vision project was developed by the Metro Government, citizens and Space Group, an architectural and planning firm located in Oslo, Norway. Through the partnership, Space Group intends to continue to seek feedback from the city’s citizens about their ideas for Louisville through online social engagement and in-person workshops and forums.

Clark said the project is still in its research phase and it’s too soon to tell what may be generated as a result of the project. Since changes to cities are often fluid, it may be hard to determine what will be a focus for Louisville 25 to 30 years into the future.

“We’re at the beginning of our recipe and everyone wants to look in the window and see what the cake looks like,” Clark said. “And it’s just not baked yet.”

Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.