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The digital magazine of InfoVis.net

Digital Cities
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message n 102]

Digital cities offer new ways to visualise all the information of a town or a region in an integrated form, favouring citizen participation and the use of services in previously unavailable ways.
HelsinkiArena1.jpg (167366 bytes)
Helsinki Arena 2000.   Snapshot of the city downtown. Note the link where the cursor is, that indicates the number of the building. Clicking on it a new window opens with information about the building and the possibility to search its associated phone numbers. 
Click on the image to enlarge it (163 KB).

Digital cities are regions of cyberspace where people from communities of regional scope can interact, share information, access community digital services and exchange experiences and knowledge. 

They have appeared (of course) under the umbrella of Internet and the World Wide Web development. Nevertheless in ancient times like 1992 there already existed experiences like Digital City Amsterdam. It started as an initiative to communicate the city council with the citizens. It was based on the exchange of texts via modem, with terminals distributed all over the city. Thanks to its success it ended up migrating to the Web. Nowadays it’s managed by a non-profit making organisation called De Digitale Stad

There are many digital cities (see, for example the digital cities guide), but among them you can find some particularly interesting ones. 

Helsinki Arena 2000, is a project started in 1995 by the Helsinki Telephone Corporation (now called Elisa Communications) backed by a large consortium. In it you can find the city administrators, IBM, ICL or Nokia, among many other public and private entities. 

The goal of this project was to take advantage of the high penetration in Finland of mobile phones and Internet to deploy and experiment the next generation of metropolitan communications network. There is an interesting article about Helsinki Arena that is worth reading (thanks to Alfons Cornella for the link).

Helsinki’s large bandwidth multimedia network allows its citizens, among other things, to communicate by video phone both ways in real time. But establishing a powerful network isn’t enough for the people to use it, you need a whole load of both private and public services. For this reason the users themselves were involved in a series of research projects to test and refine the different services.

One of the most interesting projects is Trident that has already digitally reconstructed Madrid and Rome, as well as Helsinki. The aim is to demonstrate that the integration of all the information about a city can help to simplify its management. 

You can visualise in 3D the centrer of Helsinki, along with the telecommunications services available (prepare a powerful computer, a VRML plug-in and a good graphic card). As an example, you can “walk” around the city and see the phone number that exist in a particular building. You can dial them just by clicking on the desired one.

Another possibility of Virtual Helsinki is the Virtuaali Museo that allows you to visualise in 2D and 3D the history of the city, including 3D images of buildings that have now disappeared or how they were in the past. You can also see the development of the Viiki zone, another outcome of the Triden project, that allows you to see the zone in 2D or 3D.

Another interesting city is Digital City Kyoto that has been described in an interesting article written by Toru Ishida that I recommend to those interested in a general vision about digital cities.

We saw in the issue number 93  that the 3D representation of virtual spaces, like the defunct Vios and so many others, didn’t succeed. Maybe due to the fact that these experiences tried to use the city metaphor to ease the navigation through a virtual world. 

VirtualViiki.jpg (156626 bytes) TridentMadrid2.jpg (170904 bytes)
Virtual Viiki. Snapshot of the screen where you can choose between 2D or 3D views of the Viiki area. Project Trident
Click on the image to enlarge it (153KB)
Madrid virtual.   Demo screen of the application for the planning of urban development of the Comunidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain. Project Trident
Click on the image to enlarge it (167KB)

In this case, to the contrary, the city metaphor is used to navigate through the virtual image of the city itself, accessing the services it offers. We must see if in this case it ends up being a very useful one. For those that want to discover it for themselves, at virtual Viiki you can test both (2D and 3d) visualisation modes of the Viiki zone.

En este caso, sin embargo, la metáfora de la ciudad se utiliza para navegar por la imagen virtual de la propia ciudad, accediendo a los servicios que ésta ofrece. Habrá que ver si en estos casos sí que termina resultando útil. Para los que quieran descubrirlo por si mismos en virtual Viiki  se puede acceder a ambos modos de visualización (2D y 3D) de la zona de Viiki, en Helsinki.

Finally, another interesting aspect, from the InfoVis standpoint, is that they contribute to create a different mental model of the city from the one that we are used to: the integrated vision of the private and public services available juxtaposed to the metropolitan geography.

As Toru Ishida puts in his article, in this globalisation era it seems apparently paradoxical that regional or municipal information spaces attract so many people.

For our personal life develops on an inherently local scale, where the cultural homogeneity that economic globalisations imposes exists on a much lower level.

Links of this issue:

http://www.dds.nl   Digital Amsterdam
http://www.barnews.com/barcity/   Virtual cities guide
http://www.helsinkiarena2000.fi/   Helsinki Arena 2000
http://www.linturi.fi/HelsinkiArena2000/   Article about Helsinki Arena 2000
http://www.trident3d.net/   Project Trident
http://ias.trident3d.net/ucm/   Madrid
http://ias.trident3d.net/srd/   Roma
http://ias.trident3d.net/elisa/tes-b/3d/helsinki.wrl   Helsinki
http://www.virtualhelsinki.net/museum/english/index.html   Virtuaali Museo
http://www.digitalcity.gr.jp/index-final.html   Digital City Tokio
http://www.lab7.kuis.kyoto-u.ac.jp/~ishida/pdf/01jour01.pdf   Article by Toru Ishida
http://www.infovis.net/printMag.php?num=93&lang=2   Issue 93 "Two years later"
http://ias.trident3d.net/elisa/tes-a/   Virtual Viiki
http://www.lab7.kuis.kyoto-u.ac.jp/~ishida/   Toru Ishida's Personal page .
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