Digital Tools for Planners

In the context of the B.Green project, digitality can be roughly divided into two categories: software tools and digital solutions. Digital solutions means using a mix of software combined with various types of data, created 3D-models of plants. These digital solutions are usually created for highly specific use-cases, such as mapping local green areas using mobile devices and relaying the data as a base for information modelling. Recent advances in graphical processing and freely available city modelling infrastructures together with easy-to-use, low cost software provided by cities or private businesses have created positive momentum. Reasonably well-functioning software for the benefit of citizens can now be developed with only small investments.

Example tool

Using augmented reality to design green and social infrastructure

New era of digital tools

When considering elements of the natural environment as part of digital tools and solutions, it must be possible to discern what these different elements are. There is no consensus on what constitutes nature, however, so the modelling of nature remains contested.

Helsinki plantlife 3D-library visualisation from real time rendering engine. Credit: B.Green project.

There are several ways to justify the modelling of green infrastructure elements. First, using modern visualisation software saves time and effort. Compared to conventional digital planning workflows, where the modelling process functions primarily at the symbolic level, modern, easy to use, high-quality visualisation planning software is highly valuable. It removes the need to produce additional visual materials on the plans and therefore reduces costs. Furthermore, the new rendering tools make updating the plan much easier, as the planning software and modelling are more tightly interwoven.

Example method

Communication through 3D-Modelling

Second, a certain level of proficiency in software use and handling data is needed to take advantage of the value that digital tools can add to the green infrastructure planning process. The level of skills and knowledge required about the tools increases with time. A varied skillset in different software tools and solutions helps municipal organisations collaborate with different types of stakeholders. Third, 3D models of vegetation that are aligned with specific local and native vegetation types in a city make the models more believable and a concrete element to be considered in the planning process. The 3D-models of plants also provide a target for collected vegetation data.


Important IT and software-skills that help to integrate green infrastructure into urban planning

Example tool

Local 3D model plant inventory

Example method

Hermanninranta testing of 3D models in zoning processes

Example method

Allotment garden 3D modelling

Example tool

Internet of Things (IoT) sensing

Example method

Climate IoT Sensors

Three ways to support green infrastructure modelling

  1. Invest in a new generation of user-friendly and high-quality visualisation tools
  2. Invest in human capacities and skills related to software use
  3. Create 3D models of local plant life elements as ready-to-use modelling infrastructure

High-quality visualisations of urban plans, on-site and off-site, have proved to be an effective way of implementing participation due to their easily understandable communication. Augmented reality solutions facilitated by mobile devices can communicate planning options to people in an understandable and tangible manner as part of or a replacement for existing reality. Furthermore, a combination of positioning technologies, powerful processors in mobile devices and fast mobile networks, as well as game engines capable of producing high-level graphics, enables powerful virtual reality visualisations.

Example tool

Augmented reality in the park

Example tool

Using drone and headmounted AR-device for site analysis

Example tool

Putukaväil (Pollinator Highway) augmented reality

To create greenery for new city districts and areas, and also to maximise the system-wide benefits of green infrastructure, it is essential to know what kind of greenery already exists in the area being planned. It is also important to investigate the surrounding areas, so that existing plant life, ecosystems and biodiversity can be supported. The ecological value of urban nature is determined not only by individual plants, but also by green infrastructure in networks. Together, green infrastructure creates the urban ecosystem and determines the level of ecosystem services that it provides. In B.Green, the lack of precise data about existing plant life is seen as a reason for the lack of activity around developing green infrastructure networks. Mapping precise information on species and individual plants enables the development of an inventory of existing greenery and an understanding of the various levels of ecology in different parts of the city.

Example method

Mapping local plantlife

The next steps in advancing the possibilities for mapping plantlife is the arrangement of the collected data into a usable form for different professional fields of planners, such as environmental planners or landscape planners. Furthermore, it is important to ensure that residents have incentives to enable them to collect rich data on plantlife and their environment. Digital solutions can make it easier to communicate with residents about local efforts on urban greening and seasonally relevant uses of green spaces. 

Need for future greenery modelling

‘When you work with a hammer, every screw looks like a nail’ – This saying relates to the use of software tools to plan and collect data on urban greenery. Greenery is relatively difficult to model and the development of digital representations of greenery is lagging behind. One problem is that instead of having just one rigid 3D-model for individual plant data, the modelling of vegetation requires the consideration of temporal versions: daily, seasonal and even over decades. In addition, development of data on the growth of and changes in vegetation is also required. The development of scientific, botanical research-based algorithmic plant life modelling is in its very early stages. 

Furthermore, representation of changes over time requires temporal simulation support from the platform. As the building and construction industries’ 3D-modeling needs are less complex and more commercially lucrative, only a few software solutions can currently even partially tackle 3D plantlife modelling challenges. Consequently, finding suitable combinations of widely used and new software is one of the most ambitious goals of the B.Green project.

Example tools

Interactive tram stops and tour guiding apps