Last Thursday evening at the CityEngine: Hollywood’s VFX Tool for Massive Cities event, I finally got to meet someone very important in my life. How important? Well ‘life changing’ important, okay not like meeting my wife and kids, but to say this person is only a small part of my life story would be disingenuous.
Upon meeting this person I couldn’t help but rather embarrassingly tell them that I regarded them as someone who had significantly affected my life. He looked embarrassed, he laughed awkwardly and generally I’m sure he thought I was quite mad.
So who was this ‘gentleman of significance’? Well his name is Pascal Mueller and he is the creator of CityEngine.
Yup if you have read this blog more than once now you get it. Before I came into contact with CityEngine I was drifting aimlessly through a career from Geographer to Planner never quite at home with it but content nonetheless. Then on a project I was working on using SketchUp I became massively lazy, many will recognise this levelness of lazy as the kind that makes you trawl the Internet for many hours, possibly days looking for a work around to a work process you have just got very tired of doing.
I found CityEngine.
I downloaded CityEngine.
After a few minutes of using CityEngine and reading up about it I realised this was a game changer. No, really.
Quick note from GeoPlanIT’s Elliot Hartley:Ruskin Hartley (yes my brother) attended this years Esri User Conference in San Diego on behalf of Garsdale Design Limited, I asked if he could write a couple of guest blog posts for us, this is his first.
Geography is everywhere. Of course, being a geographer I would say that. But for many people geography means a list of state capitals and perhaps the atlas published by the National Geographic. I’ve just come back from the 2015 Esri user conference in San Diego and saw first hand that this is changing quickly. While much of the discussion was about new software and tools, the most exciting change is the way these tools are deployed.
Just as Google maps has transformed the way we navigate our world (when was the last time you used a paper map?!), spatial decision support tools are transforming the way we understand the world around us and how we make collective decisions. GIS – geographic information systems – is the tool enabling this transformation.
GIS is not a new technology. It’s at least 40 years old in its modern incarnation and I’ve been using it for about half this time. Having just spent a few days at the Esri user conference, it is clear that the power of GIS as a decision support tool is on the verge of being brought into the heart of the public domain. It’s exciting and has the potential to transform the way we live, work, and govern.
A number of trends are converging to make this possible.
Data is being collected in real time and near real-time. Our GPS enabled smart phones are at the front line of this data collection revolution. They are being rapidly joined by an army of drones, and matched up with unprecedented satellite images being updated on a daily basis.
Data is shared and available 24/7 on the cloud rather than being hoarded on hard drives. From the latest Landsat image, to a live twitter feed, to projections of sea-level rise, we all have access to curated and constantly updated datasets. Served up through a geoportal, you can quickly find what you’re looking for and know that you’re accessing current data.
Powerful GIS analysis and publishing tools are available online. I no longer need a UNIX workstation, thousands of dollars of software, and an expensive plotter to conduct and share an analysis. Using ArcGIS online, or one of the other freely available online tools, I can quickly publish and share work.
Bring these three threads together and real-time analysis is available to anyone. In the classic production cycle, experts would take weeks to conduct a static analysis that was shared with the decision makers as a printed map. There was no way quick or easy way to interact with the results. Most of your time was spent preparing the data, rather than conducing the analysis. In the end, the decision maker had to accept what the map said – or risk another lengthy cycle to change things up. It was the classic top-down approach.
Now, I can throw the data up a on a web-site — pulling data feeds from many different places — and give the users simple ways to explore and visualize the data. They can dig in and draw their own conclusions. Or I can walk them through a story map to help them understand what is going on.
This will fundamentally remake the way decisions are made. The environmental review process for development and land use projects can become interactive. Companies can understand spatial trends in real time. In essence, decision making will become democratized as everyone has access to relevant data and analysis.
Does this mean GIS professionals will whither away? Far from it! Rather than just being the folks you go to to make a map, they’ll be at the core of how we collaborate and make shared decisions. Sounds like fun to me!
If you follow either myself or Matthias on twitter you may have seen that we were ‘living it up’ in the great city of Philadelphia last week. Home to the Liberty Bell and all sorts of reminders as to where my native land went wrong and some of its big mistakes….
Having said that the city seems a wonderful place and it helped our experience staying in the historic core of Philadelphia where all the good restaurants and bars are. The food was wonderful and the people were friendly.
Enough of the travel guide! We were there to help and support the work of students on their design charrette on Philadelphia University’s GeoDesign Masters Program. The M.S. in GeoDesign was the first of its kind in the USA, and come to think of it probably the world. You can read more about Geodesign elsewhere but for all practical purposes it’s about collaborative workflows and coordinated iterative processes across disciplines. It’s heavily influenced by new technologies like Esri CityEngine and has a strong supporter from Esri as well as a string of notable academics.
Garsdale Design (Matthias and I) were there to provide additional support, troubleshooting and advice on CityEngine and Geodesign workflows. We had already provided remote assistance to elements of the course around technical aspects of CityEngine, so we were familiar with the students and the program.
As with all projects academic or ‘real-world’ collaboration in a team is critical. In such a small amount of time the students had to focus on a design goal on chosen study areas, and come up with workflows and analytical processes to measure metrics to help them design. They were designing using software like ArcGIS, SiteOps, AutoCAD and CityEngine and merging it into one cohesive process. Towards the end of the week the students had focused in on achievable goals and worked out workflows that were easily repeatable and produced metrics that would help inform there design choices. I won’t go in to detail what these all were as it is there project and is best heard directly from them when the are ready.
One clear thing came out of this charrette for me was that most software (especially CityEngine) works best with focused tasks and simplified processes. For example when you first work with CityEngine the tendency is to think it can do many things, which it can. But trying to combine all those tasks into one is often a mistake, keep the workflows as simple as possible is much better for everyone.
Just a quick post to say something exciting happened whilst I was away at GISWORX last week, DigitalDales (trading/operating as FibreGarden) has started to dig in the ducting that will carry the community Fibre network. This will be great for Garsdale Design as well as residents up Garsdale and Dentdale who will when completed have a word class fibre optic broadband network. This will change everything around here.
Last week Garsdale Design (that is myself and Matthias) attended, exhibited as well as conducted a workshop at the Middle East’s premier annual Esri GIS conference called GISWORX held in Dubai. This is hosted and run by GISTEC an Esri Distributor. Those who follow me know I’ve been before, in fact I was the guest speaker the first time around (The Power of Play).
In celebration of the new release of CityEngine 2015 (click here for release notes) and the announcement of a new feature set called ‘handles’ we’ve produced this AnimatedGIF (next time I might just do a video).
Comments on this post should really only be suggestions as to what these two are saying I think.