Yesterday at ESRI’s annual user conference in San Diego, Jack Dangermond announced the acquisition of Procedural, the maker of an “up and coming” piece of software called CityEngine that I’ve talked about quite a lot on this blog…

My reaction to this news is enthusiastic I already use ArcGIS in our Urban Design and Master Planning projects extensively.   I’ve been also looking at using CityEngine to speed up the process of master planning as well as other related urban projects.   Better integration with ArcGIS will be great for us.   I’m also looking forward to a more mature product at the next release with support for GeoTiffs at the top of my most wanted list.

From the moment I downloaded the trial of CityEngine (thanks to blog post in DigitalUrban) I saw that this program had huge potential on many levels for my industry.   The key to its usefulness, for me, is it’s ability (or potential ability) to deal with the macro to micro scale of planning.  For example I can get it to grow a region wide street network from obstacle maps and an existing network, but within that and dependent on your rule files I can zoom into building level and have a particular piece of street furniture outside a building.    The possibilities are endless, honestly, and the complexity of your model is only as complex as your rule files.    I can quite quickly make a convincing looking city for master planning purposes provided I put the time into the rule files that govern your model.

At it’s simplest level you can specify lot sizes very easily (provided your area is bounded by a road network).   This means that for some traditional ways of working (I’m talking AutoCAD plotting), has been dramatically reduced.   For a small company like the one I work for, where everyone has multiple jobs (I’m the CAD technician as well on master planning projects!) this is essential for us to remain competitive.

The future of certain urban based modelling, especially in master planning I see as two fold:

  1. Most of the drawing of urban areas will now be governed by text based rule files and drawn automatically using CityEngine methods.   Much of the time consuming processes involved in designing a new city will be reduced to a tiny amount of the project time.
  2. Design becomes more prominent in the process as time freed doing the manual work of plotting cities is replaced by CityEngine.   I think what we will see is design codes and planning standards used as templates to create rule files that can be changed very quickly.   When it comes to, for example, detailed studies for a master plan we as master planners will have much more time to actually design.   By that I mean instead of putting time into plotting in AutoCAD lots, plots and districts we will actually be able to design key buildings and other pieces of the urban fabric.
All in all this is a great piece of software not so much for it’s usability or stability (there needs to be some work done there in places!) but for what it represents which I believe is a complete change in the way we think about urban modelling especially in relation to the master planning industry.

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