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Tuesday, July 12 • 10:31 - 12:00
Using 3D social worlds to enhance participatory urban planning

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 305, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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  • David Harris Smith, McMaster University, Canada
  • Frauke Zeller, Ryerson University, Canada
  • John Eyles,  McMaster University, Canada
  • Emily Eyles, University of Bristol, Canada
  • Lauren Jay Dwyer, Ryerson University, Canada
  • Hanako Smith, Tampere University, Canada


As digital and social technologies have come to shape the city and the daily lives of its citizenry, it is timely and necessary that the means by which we envision the future city is enabled by these same technologies. The changing nature of the city in the digital age, the availability of rich GIS data sets, social media networking platforms, and open source online collaborative virtual worlds, suggest that a key challenge in achieving greater citizen engagement and participation in urban planning decisions is how to best leverage both the social and technological opportunities implicit in these conditions. This Work-in-Progress paper discusses first results from a SSHRC funded project, Virtual Hamilton, which integrates the design, testing and implementation of a publicly accessible, user-friendly community planning and visualization system. The Virtual Hamilton project also aims to integrate community knowledge contribution via multiple social media tools, such as Twitter and Instagram with an open source virtual environment for city modeling.


The Virtual Hamilton project goal is to explore novel techniques and approaches for integrating a 3D visualization platform and interactive social media for the purposes of civic engagement in community development and participatory urban planning processes. By integrating both cutting-edge High-Performance-Computing (HPC) technologies with social sciences theories and methods, the project aims to provide novel insights on the use of digital technologies to facilitate public engagement and participation in city planning.  


The project follows an interaction design methodology (Preece et al., 2002), integrating different methods (mixed methods approach) at specific stages of the project (see Figure 1 below). In the first phase, we conducted 12 expert interviews with professional planners and 3 focus group studies to access diverse stakeholder opinions. We also staged two 100 attendee participatory planning charrettes, jointly hosted by the City of Hamilton and McMaster and Ryerson University partners. We are now in the process of evaluating and analyzing the different outcomes, which will then inform our user studies of the first prototype of the 3D virtual planning environment.


Initial analysis of the expert interviews and focus groups indicate that while participatory planning has been readily adopted as a value by municipal authorities and planning professionals, it has not been successfully implemented. Problems cited by professionals include the increased costs and workload to facilitate public participation, planning knowledge deficits on the part of the lay participants. Lay participants and business operators cited a lack of information from planning authorities and professionals and the offer of token, rather than meaningful, planning engagement. All participants, including charrette participants, responded positively to the virtual planning environment, requesting ongoing access to the environment and suggesting extended application to other planning sites and issues.

Future Work:

Future work includes detailed analysis of the data and conducting a user study of the virtual environment for participatory urban planning. 


Preece, J., Rogers, Y., and Sharp, S. (2002). Interaction design: Beyond human-computer interaction. New York, NY: J. Wiley & Sons. 

Tuesday July 12, 2016 10:31 - 12:00 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 305 Goldsmiths University, Building 2

Attendees (4)