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Reconstructing Real Cities in Google Earth 97

An anonymous reader writes "NewScientistTech has an article up on the way 3D models of real cities are being uploaded into Google Earth to help town planners and architects envisage their designs. Researchers at the University of Arkansas have developed a method for rapidly mapping building, which they are using to reconstruct the rapidly-expanding town of Fayetteville. The researchers say tools like Google Earth and Sketchup could eventually help ordinary citizens get more involved in urban development."
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Reconstructing Real Cities in Google Earth

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  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @02:57PM (#16155723)
    The researchers say tools like Google Earth and Sketchup could eventually help ordinary citizens get more involved in urban development.
    Trained urban planners often don't get a seat at the development table; what makes you think local governments would care about what ordinary laypeople think?
    • This explains the total lack of right turn lanes throughout my entire city!
      • Dude, you should come to my country. I don't know if our urban designers are just completely retarded or sadistic perverts.
    • "Trained urban planners often don't get a seat at the development table; what makes you think local governments would care about what ordinary laypeople think?"

      Most urban planners do get their wishes through the city planners/council, wether through political favors or just plain bribes. However, in our city, I do know of one person who is using SketchUp to design a massive upgrade to a main corridor _in_ our city. He was using this feature before it has received the press it's been getting as of late.
      • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @03:14PM (#16155888)
        Most urban planners do get their wishes through the city planners/council, wether through political favors or just plain bribes.
        You misspelled "urban planners"; I believe the correct spelling is "well-heeled developers".
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by lthornto ( 104934 )
          Your not far off the mark. I have spent most of the last three years doing environmental analysis on a large project in downtown Ft. Worth called the "Trinity River Vision". []

          The people of Fort Worth were some of the last to know about this. Radio Shack, Pier One and Tarrant County College (among others) all had purchased land along a proposed waterfront before the study ever began.

          All the planning for this took place behind closed doors in congressional offices and b

          • Interestingly enough congresswoman Kay Grangers son was hired by the Tarrant Regional Water District to oversee the construction of this project.

            Wealthy and powerful people's kids need jobs too, you know.
        • Mod this up insightful, not just funny :-/

    • I beg to differ. I'm an architect, I probably sit on a DRC meeting at least once a month. Most staff level planners are required to approve proposed designs prior to commission approval. Google earth has become one of the most revalutionary tools to date. Allowing simple arial evaluations of sites without having to leave the office. Most City GIS systems include arial photography mostly used for code enforcement. But from an architects stand point this is very usefull when presenting issues such as verti
      • simple arial evaluations architects stand point...when features liek much goolgle will allow us to intigrate there layout into 3d sfotware such as...
        Forget "Google Earth"; we need "Slashdot Spell" more.
      • by zxnos ( 813588 )
        google earth + google sketchup pro are good things. anything done in sketchup can be exported out to 3d modeling tools and cad - and visa versa really. i dont think that you ahve to dress up sketchup for typical presentations to the local drc/arc/whatevercommittee. i have put together good models and put them into google earth. when the background is grey masses and one detailed model, it gets lots of ooh and ahhs.

        we need to start an architects spelling/grammar improvement fund.

        lastly i wouldnt say lack o

    • Trained urban planners often don't get a seat at the development table; what makes you think local governments would care about what ordinary laypeople think?

      I think the correct answer is that they won't care what they think. But they might care about what they can show them in a 3D or 2 dimensional model. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a 3d picture that you can "fly" through is at least worth a thousand and one words.
  • cool (Score:4, Funny)

    by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @02:58PM (#16155731) Homepage
    NewScientistTech has an article up on the way 3D models of real cities are being uploaded into Google Earth to help town planners and architects envisage their designs.

    That sounds like it would be good if you wanted to, say, judge building altitude and approach angle for flying a plan^^#$@%^^^^NOCARRIER
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      You're being a smartass, but I wouldn't mind plugging this into FlightGear []
      • by Spunk ( 83964 )
        Goggles [] is a start on that idea.
        • I've tried this under Linux(Mozilla & Firefox) and Windows(Mozilla & IE), and other than the "select city" dropdown, I've yet to see it do anything. I'm interested in the idea, but I don't see this as anything but a broken website. What am I missing?
  • I don't get it, isn't this already called SimCity?
  • Even with these great tools (and believe me I myself love this),I think the underlying problems willnot change.

    1. Just because we can doesn't mean we will.

    We have had out feet and a telephone for quite a while now but ordinary citizens rarely make it to town council meetings let a lone make a call to voice their opinion.

    and, 2. Even if they did, since when to the politicians ever really listening to their constituants.

    Hope this post wasn't too much of a downer. Have a great day.
  • Time travel? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by timelorde ( 7880 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @03:18PM (#16155914)
    I've been hoping for awhile that Google Earth would add a scroll-wheel doohickey that would allow the user to scroll backwards and forwards in time, and that Google would stitch in old/new image data as needed.

    Kinda like watching SimCity, but with real roads and buildings...
    • Really.

      This [] story:
      All Points Blog links [] to a ZDNet article where we learn the time tracking tool in Google Earth Pro will now be available in Google Earth Free [] (and GE Plus, of course!). From the article: "The feature in which a slider is used to scroll through time [...] now features a simplified interface. [...] showing how scientists, who had tracked the movements of a whale shark using GPS, had then mapped the creature's path using the application. Business uses could include fleet tracking or mapping the movements of transport infrastructure according to Google. Jones also described how the new version would enable users to track all of the geostationary satellites orbiting the earth." Ed Parsons was first [] to mention this news item.

      And yes, it does also work with SketchUp buildings. Meaning you can scroll through time and watch buildings evoluate. Some published KML demonstrate this.
    • Cool imagination :d I love to use google earth but the zoom has always felt awkward and I would hope Google Earth gets it right. Google's flexibility is impressive and they will prove it as always!! Time tavel is too much to ask for :P and the urban city development in such model must be helpful for people who are real town planners.. for others it is like playing a computer game.
    • Since Burning Man [] is a city that gets built and destroyed every year, Burning Man Earth [] is hoping to be able to use overlays to show the art from different years and allow time travel. Burning Man Earth started as Virtual Playa [], which consists of Microsoft Flight Simulator models of objects found at Burning Man. I converted them to Flight Gear [] and then uploaded them to Google Earth. Andrew Johnstone [] and others then redid many of the models in sketchup and uploaded them to Burning Man Earth []
  • by MonkeyCookie ( 657433 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @03:21PM (#16155958)
    I think ordinary citizens are too busy playing SimCity to get involved with this. This software won't have a chance against SimCity until they implement some decent disasters (Tornado, Nuclear Meltdown, Godzilla) that the user can unleash upon the city while laughing.

    Urban planning is simply too boring otherwise!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jbourj ( 954426 )
      Just think, someday, Google Earth may be comparable to WoW reconstructions. Imagine the possibilities: people could spend countless hours a day bettering their imaginary lives in an imaginary planet called 'earth' instead of interacting with this one. That'll be the day.
    • ...and to think they laughed at my suggestion of putting a Microwave power plant next to Jerry Falwell's headquarters.
    • This software won't have a chance against SimCity until they implement some decent disasters (Tornado, Nuclear Meltdown, Godzilla) that the user can unleash upon the city while laughing.

      Triggering disasters manually from the menu was a bit... cheap. My favourite approach was always zoning high-density commercial areas right by the end of the main runway at the airport.

      Skyscraper goes up... plane goes up... CRAAASSSSHHHH!...

      "No, I'm not going to rezone. Why do you ask?"

      Skyscraper gets rebuilt... plan

  • by posterlogo ( 943853 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @03:22PM (#16155969)
    " help town planners and architects envisage their designs"

    " ordinary citizens get more involved in urban development."

    So which is it? Seems like they're just playing around and making grandoise statements. I can see how this might be one tool for planners and architects (as if the don't already do this sort of thing), but give me a break -- helping ordinary citizens get involved in urban development? I sure hope not. I'd rather have intelligent people propose good designs. Move along, nothing to see here.

    • I'd rather have intelligent people propose good designs

      So would I. I don't know about where you live, but in my neck of the woods that rarely happens. What is more likely to happen is this:

      1. Developer proposes project
      2. Developer lines pockets of local authorities
      3. Local authorities approve project
      4. Developer builds project
      5. $$ Profit!
      6. Local authorities stick it to existing taxpayers to fund infrastructure upgrades that should have been paid for by developer

      So yeah, getting ordinary citize

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by Quadraginta ( 902985 )
        A reasonable point, except...

        Why should the infrastructure upgrades have been paid for by the developer (which really means, as you know, by the new homeowners via a bump in the price of their new houses)?

        I take it you're talking about sewage, roads, electricity, new schools, et cetera. Thing is, these are all public resources. Everyone gets their indirect and in some cases direct benefit, not just the new homeowners, and everyone has a say in how they're used.

        I mean, if you want only the new homeowners t
        • A developer gets recreational land rezoned as residential to put in a slew of houses (this happened down the street from me, albeit before I moved in). Tax base goes up, politicians get donations, everyone is excited... except the neighbors whose house is no longer down the street from a country club with a pool and instead has more houses... After a 5 year fight, the compromise is a rezone on half, and the other half becomes a park... everyone is somewhat happy (still having recreational features, althou
          • Well, first of all, I have to say I'm pretty troubled by the whole concept of "zoning." It definitely corrupts the concept of property rights. Basically, what the citizens were saying in your examples is: we won't pay for the price of that land, but through the force of the majority (i.e. the government), we're are going to tell other people who are willing to pay the costs of ownership what they can and can't do with the land.

            I think this kind of sucks. Seems to me if you really want to make sure some p
            • I agree with you, in theory, about zoning. On the other-hand, there is a massive externality issue involved. For example, if you prop unregulated low income housing, slum style, into a neighborhood, you will cause MAJOR negative externalizes in the surrounding communities. If I own a peace of land with a view of the ocean (theoretical house, 2 stories), and someone buys the land in front of me (currently 1 story), and puts up a 3 story building, I lose my view. This is a negative to me. Restricting the
              • My friend, it's a perfectly plausible argument, and I'm perfectly willing to agree that in this situation you are probably dead right. The problem I have is that whether you are right or not is a pretty complicated logical question. To be absolutely sure -- and we would need to be, since when we talk property values we're often talking about the bulk of a person's life's savings -- I say, to be absolutely sure you're right, we'd need to have access to all the facts of the case, and we'd need to be very jus
        • Why should the infrastructure upgrades have been paid for by the developer

          I'll tell you why. If I own a piece of land, and it's way out in Bum F@sk Egypt with no lights or running water, I have to pay to have them put them in. It should be no different with a developer who is adding increased stress to our existing infrastructure.

          If developers want to continue making obscene profits from properties sold in my town then they should be responsible (within reason) for contributing (not solely supporting) t

          • Er...well, fine. But if you've got the votes to require them to pay for infrastructure costs, then you've got the votes to prevent any such silly things as subsidies and tax incentives, don't you?

            I mean, if the citizens have already voted to subsidize development, it seems a little schizophrenic for them to then turn around and complain that development is costing them money.

            Also, what makes development profits "obscene," anyway? They charge all the market will bear, surely. And what's wrong with that?
        • Ok, let's limit the infrastructure to sewer, water, and roads. If I buy a big old piece of land, then I, the owner, must pay to get sewer, water, and build my driveway. The gov't doesn't pay for these, though it requires that I have them (fire codes, building codes etc). Now a developer comes in and buys the same acreage, and plans on building 10 McMansions. Why should he be any different than me? I live in a sprawl city where bond issues have paid for infrastructure extensions in the past. I don't th
          • far as I know, the big developer isn't treated in principle any different from you the little guy developer. If you have to pay to have the sewer extended to your front door, he does too. I've never heard of a community offering to pay for services that are only used by the development, unless the community really wants to encourage new development. And if that's what the citizens are up to, well that's their free choice. You can't logically offer to subsidize development and then complain that
    • Town planners and architects do not wait for Google Earth to plan their cities. They already have detailed 3d maps of their creations in their workstations; and they have done so for many years now.
  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @03:24PM (#16155988)
    The aerial view will ensure that they don't put up anything that looks bad from our flying cars. Oh, wait...
  • Wishful thinking (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hahnsoo ( 976162 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @03:26PM (#16155998)
    Now if there was only a way to import this information into my SimCity game. Or any other Sim franchise game. Hell, any game, for that matter.
    • import this information into my SimCity game

      And would also be nice to export our cities into this. Ok, maybe not any of us, but professional urban planners, architects, etc. They could grab a "chunk" from the planned site, render the terrain, climate, etc, into SimCity (or something similar), build a city, and if it prospers/lasts, "export" it back.
  • by PHAEDRU5 ( 213667 ) <> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @03:39PM (#16156126) Homepage
    I liked this bit

    Williamson says free programs like these could eventually let ordinary citizens explore their city and contribute to planning schemes.

    but I really don't believe it.

    We just had a developer come in and build an apartment complex next to a mature neighborhood. Imagine that one day you have trees outside your house, and the next day you have a five-storey building.

    We photoshopped a representation of what the apartment complex would do to the trees, and presented it to the DeKalb County (GA) commissioners, but it made no difference. I think they could see the added tax revenue to the county, and gave not a damn about the existing houses.

    I wasn't personally affected - it was a number of my neighbors at the other end of the neighborhood, but I did learn that tools and the ability to predict impact don't really matter. What really matters is money to the local taxing authority.

    Just sayin'.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Pollardito ( 781263 )
      your mistake was drawing the building next to your neighborhood. maybe if you had found out where the council members live and draw the building next to their neighborhood your point would have been clearer.
    • While it often happens that way, there are still places where a well organized citizen group can make a difference. I live in a small city with around 2000 households, and a highrise condo project has been held up for a long time due to vocal and organized resistance from people living here. The local government would certainly appreciate the extra tax revenue if the condos came into existence, but they're likely concerned that giving the project the green light would be very detrimental to their future re-
    • by Suspended_Reality ( 927563 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:24PM (#16156540)
      Disclaimer: I am a city planner.

      There's an old saying, "if you like the view, buy it". Why shouldn't the owner of the property have the right to develop THEIR property? It's tough to face that as a neighbor, I know, but the issue is that citizen interaction must come before the step in the process where you got involved (which, unfortunately, is the step most people choose to get involved because it is when projects affect them the most). If you had been successful at stopping approval of a proposed development, the developer can simply take the project to circuit court and have the Planning Commission's actions overturned because it would most likely be arbitrary.

      Rather, one must get involved at the Comprehensive Plan stage and at the formation of the documents that guide the proposals. Zoning regulations that dictate land uses, open space requirements, density, height and setback issues, etc. I'm sorry you have to live next to something you don't want to have to live next to, but that property owner had a right to use his property, too.
      • Oh, I fully accept the right of the developer to develop. No problem there. I'd just have preferred a few more trees left in place, so the apartment building wouldn't loom quite so much.

        The developer took the tack that it was land, to do with as he wished, and so he did. Right up to the property line. A standard Atlanta story. It'd have been nice if he'd been willing to be a nicer neighbor, but what can you do?
        • by supasam ( 658359 )
          Build a taller building right up next to his and ruin his view. 'Course then you have to go through all the people that think the planet is big enough to house everyone plus some trees and a yard for the dog in single story houses that get slapped together by mexicans in a hurry. Who live in high rises.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by digitect ( 217483 )

        Disclaimer: I am an architect.

        If we argue only on grounds of capitalism, your point of view is exactly where we end up. However, it has been shown since the Minoan period that cities (really any community) are very complex organisms that depend on us all living together and respecting each other, outside the bounds of simple property ownership.

        Who owns the clean air we breath? Sunlight? Are you entitled to cast shadows on my property? How about make noise in the middle of the night that carries past you

        • by Hast ( 24833 )
          I was just going to write a clever retort to that post but then I found you had already done it better than I would have.

          It kind of makes sense that if you are going to live or work in a neighbourhood the first thing to do might not be to piss everyone off.

          I know that in the cities that I live and work (in Sweden) there are quite strict rules regarding what you build where. Basically you are not allowed to build buildings which are significantly taller than the neighbouring houses. There are also some restr
        • My point is that people need to get involved sooner in the process. I appreciate and understand (and believe) in your academic response, but the laws in the United States don't back up your utopian complex organism. I was simply stating that when a Planning Commission is faced with approval of a development plan and the plan meets all codes and is in agreement with the Comprehensive Plan, they MUST approve it. Anything else is arbitrary and the courts say so.

          Since I am in the same boat as you, philoso
          • My point is that people need to get involved sooner in the process.

            I can certainly agree with this, although sometimes it is difficult for everyone to understand what is happening until it is too late.

            I appreciate and understand (and believe) in your academic response, but the laws in the United States don't back up your utopian complex organism.

            Not in smaller population areas, but definitely in established cities where people better understand the complexity. Setbacks [] were developed in New Yo

      • by shomon2 ( 71232 )
        You ask why people shouldn't have the right to build things on land that they own.

        I think if there is a reason for this (if in a city and when talking about something like a stretch of land with trees in it) it should be ecological: how does it hit the carbon emissions, how much does it warm the city by for example producing more driveways which are harmful for rainwater and reflect sunlight.

        Who will live/use this place - will this use be helping/sustaining/contributing to the existing community living ther
  • Such a tool, I think, would be useful for evaluating the impact of proposed structures on viewscapes. Traditionally, urban planners and citizens have ignored the effect of what they do on viewscapes, hence the huge hotels that block residents' view of the ocean, for instance. In that sense, this is a hopeful development. On the other hand, a big part of the reason we haven't done a good job of analysing the impact on viewscapes is because people haven't been paying any attention to viewscapes, largely, unti
    • Any halfway-decent urban planner/architect is well aware of views. If they don't mention them, it's because leaving them out of the discussion serves their interests(or the interests of their client). That hotel might be destroying the view for a whole bunch of existing houses, but the people renting rooms in that hotel when it's finished will be willing to pay a good chunk of change more each night for the view that they'll be getting.

  • by Onan ( 25162 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @03:58PM (#16156315)

    I started using sketchup a while back for the geekiest of all possible reasons: creating and displaying models of places for a roleplaying game I was running.

    (This is actually a surprisingly hard problem, which no other tools solve well. You need do deal with there being a complex model that already exists, but of which only a dynamic section is actually visible to players. Navigating an actual 3d model gives you the ability to convey great detail quickly, without ever having to worry about giving away too much. The players see exactly what they characters see, and you can get on with the actual game.)

    So I started to place the locations that I'd modeled into Seattle (yes, Shadowrun), and was pleased to find that a lot of Seattle was already modeled in Earth, with yet more available in the google "3D Warehouse" []. It's basically the classic free software development model: everyone in the community works on something they find interesting, and we all benefit from one another's products.

    • by Eccles ( 932 )
      Is there any way to turn off their simple buildings if existing ones overlap them, or do you have to develop the whole model as add-ins?

      I still think Google should use some of their pocket change to hire pilots to photograph some of the many towns that are unusable as satellite images. C'mon Sergei, go through the couch cushions!
  • Let me know when I can play a FPS in my hometown, online. Now that would be cool. It is something that I have thought for years would be the just great. You could hide out in your own house, or camp on your school roof, hell the home team would actually have an advantage! Anyway software developers your on notice! Build me this and I will buy it! Hmmm of course the Jack Thompson (or whatever his name is) would have a field day about a FPS in a actual real school (even though virtural) online....
  • by Fiver- ( 169605 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:30PM (#16156584)
    At the architectural firm I used to work for, I had shown Google Earth to the principals and told them to keep it in mind for future proposals. A couple months later I was asked to composite some renderings into Google Earth for a proposal for a new facility at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was cool...I was able to drop the site plans directly onto the existing site. The renderings also had arrows indicating traffic flow, so I made the site plans into .PNGs and Google Earth recognized the transparency channel so the arrows were floating over the existing roads instead of over a white backgroud. I'm probably not describing this well, but the end result looked great and we won the project.
  • For those who think "Why Fayetteville?"

    Fayetteville happens to be one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and JB Hunt are all in the larger metropolitan area. The commercial infrastructure here has exploded in the last decade.

    When people hear Arkansas they think of L'il Abner and the like, but the area that Fayetteville is in is nothing like the rest of the state. The population has a higher per-capita income, more education and less crime. Think Seattle, except smaller an
    • by JDevers ( 83155 )
      Actually, think Seattle except more rain in much smaller time increments.

      Seriously, we receive noticeably more rain than Seattle, it just isn't as "rainy" as Seattle. Basically, we get most of our rain in 1-3 inch deluges instead of light mist for days on end.

      Also, while Fayetteville itself is VERY progressive, the other cities in the metro are less so. Still nothing like the rest of the state, but not much like Seattle either...more like Dallas in political perspective at least.
  • that were rejected by the /. editors :-)
    [ok, I'm too lazy, here's a direct copy of slashgeo's stories]

    Following yesterday [] stories [], izo writes "It's here. Fresh, crispy and shiny — Google Earth ver 4.0.2080 []. There is new timeline interface and few new kml tags. [Although there is no demo to test it] My personal winner with this release is .dae caching and fixed refreshing. Now you can create simple "animations" with "moving" 3d objects using Update kml tag. P.S. To avoid problems with flickering mous
  • For anyone who ahs trouble driving around metropolitan areas this would be awsome! You can take a look at the buildings if you were driving around. So I could see what I should expect to see when I'm driving up to said building, instead of trying to infer what the place looks like from the roof. I wonder if you can move the camera to capture city vistas without actually having to trek out there.
  • Urban Planner View (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Chasqui ( 601659 )
    Disclaimer: I am an urban planner. One of the things these free tools do is raise the expectations bar. Most planning departments have had access for many years to GIS tools which are far more capable than what the online tools can do. That said, the general public has not. I do not think that "ordinary citizens will get more involved" - I have been to enough public meetings to know what citizen apathy looks like - but I do think that the public's perception of what is possible in terms of visualization and
    • ...they will expect to see zooming and fly-throughs

      I use CAD and visualization software "zooming and fly-throughs" every day while designing and commenting on virtual 3D environments (not city architecture, though). It looks cool and impresses most people, but this feature also makes it easy for many observers to be "wowed" and miss important details.
  • How cool would it be to drive across the world in a Ferrari. It better have inside the car driving modes.
  • While the virtual Fayetteville is cool, it's kinda late to the party. This is exactly what my software is used for, and we even already support Google Earth, NASA WorldWind, VRML, VTP and more. The nice thing being, unlike SketchUp, we author to many formats, not just KML, so you can reuse the same scene in numerous environments and you're not locked in. [] []

    Here's a heapload of links about this sort of thing done by my users over the past few years. Some
  • They just need giant 3D printers - or maybe an enlarging ray instead... :D
  • When we have real-time feeds, we'll be able to map geo-relevant information info onto Google Earth:

    Like weather, traffic jams, tornado locations, animal migrations, polar ice levels, progress building a dam, maybe even someday jetting between the different football stadiums on Sunday morning to watch the different football games live in 3D VR.

    TED: I need bigger tubes into my home.

  • That's this would be good for.

    I've met a lot of people who want historical or evironmental views of their region.

    In the UK, local authorities can grant planning permissions - motorways, supermarkets etc. Using Google Maps would be ideal for this, rather than the PDF files with their itty-bitty descriptions they have now. You could actually *see* which bit of countryside they were going to concrete over.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll