- Green infrastructure
- Climate Change and Resilience
- Challenges for Green
- The Collaborative Planning Process
- Digital Tools for Planners
- Stakeholder Participation
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.
In B.Green, Forum Virium Helsinki collaborated with Parkly to pilot modular, scalable green street furniture in Kalasatama. Parkly’s augmented reality element designer, ParklyCreate, allows users to try out the placement of various green street furniture elements on sites using a mobile device. This feature can be used as a fast and cheap way to deepen understanding of the spatial effect of bringing such furniture into an area.
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.
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.
3D methods and tools have been tested extensively in the Hermanninranta zoning planning project. Plant life models have been used throughout the information modelling of the new Hermanninranta district. An add-on real-time rendering software has been used along with the planning software to quickly create a shadow analysis. Adult size tree models have been used as a reference for making decisions about the footprint of the planned buildings. A sense of scale of the buildings and the streetscape was also trialled using a head-mounted virtual reality device and the real-time rendering software.
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.
In Helsinki, it was deemed important to produce 3D plantlife model libraries of common local species, in various age and seasonal versions, in order to connect the plantlife data collected into specific individual plantlife objects. Previously, the lack of higher informational resolution plantlife models has prevented the serious inclusion of plants in the city’s information modelling process. These plantlife models have been actively used in the modelling and planning options for multiple zones of the Hermanninranta. As the cities of Tallinn and Helsinki are geographically close to each other, they share plant species and can thus benefit from each other’s vegetation models. In Tallinn, the plantlife model libraries were used in the development phases of the allotment gardens.
In the Hermanninranta zoning project, vegetation was considered in the early planning phases for the new area. It was important to ensure that the footprints of housing blocks would have sufficiently large interior courtyards and that the street spaces would reserve space for both vegetation and stormwater management solutions. Furthermore, in choosing the parking solutions, modelling showed that a centralised parking structure would enable the planting of large trees in the interior courtyards, while underground parking would not. While modelling the zoning area, local vegetation models from the local vegetation model inventory were tested and used as part of the 3D modelling for the area, and to test the scale of the urban structure and the spatial needs of mature trees.
In Tallinn, much of the modelling effort within the B.Green project was focused on the allotment gardens. The 3D-model of the allotment garden area of the Pollinator Highway has been a valuable design asset throughout the planning stages and will continue to be a valuable communication tool when addressing local citizens. Helsinki provided Tallinn with 3D plantlife models to be used in the 3D modelling of the allotment garden. Traditionally, plan modelling and visualisation production have been separate processes because the tools needed to achieve high visual accuracy have been separate. However, new tools can be integrated more deeply into the planning and modelling process, which facilitates a more nuanced planning if the modelling elements are optimised to function in this new planning and modelling paradigm. The 3D plant models also provide higher quality visual modelling and a more tangible understanding for observers about what can be achieved.
In Kalasatama, Internet of Things sensing (IoT-sensing) has been used within and in close proximity to a new apartment block, the Aurora block. Three sets of IoT-sensors transfer data to a collection service known as Climasens. This provides a basic analysis of the data. These IoT-sensor sets are positioned in three different locations (street square, interior courtyard and rooftop garden) in the block to track the effect of the exact location on the data produced. They provide basic weather data and information on soil moisture and movement. The analysed data can be used by city planners through the Climasens website or communicated to citizens as part of other digital services.
As a part of the B.Green project, SEI Tallinn placed 18 meteorological sensors in western Tallinn and visualised data streams during the summer of 2022. The aim is to highlight the value of the Pollinator Highway for Tallinn’s urban climate to city officials and the public. The pilot will last between May 2022 and will continue for at least 3 years. The results can be use as input into a range of applications useful for decision-making related to, e.g., city planning, climate risk reduction, adaptation planning, rain radar calibration and highly localised weather forecasts and even projections of heat stress and vulnerability.
Three ways to support green infrastructure modelling
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.
In the Loviseholm park in Helsinki, the future ‘fully mature’ park can be seen as an augmented reality (AR) overlay on the camera feed of a mobile device. The AR also enables users, such as planners or other stakeholders, to identify places to plant and transplant trees and bushes. The AR experience created for residents in B.Green was used not for planning the green spaces, but rather as an important exercise in identifying the capacity to create a valuable experience for resident users. It also made citizens aware that the development of a versatile green urban environment is a slow process, as trees take decades to mature.
The Helsinki B.Green project piloted together with a local startup a tree mapping method, that utilizes a combination of a flying photography drone and headmounted AR-device. By projecting virtually the position of the drone, dropping virtual markers and combining human recognition capabilities to digital species mark-up, created an innovative maping method, that produces precise location, species and size data, that can be transferred as basematerial for site analysis.
In Tallinn, an Augmented Reality Application, Avalinn AR, enables citizens to experience alternative art and visualisations of the future for Putukaväil. The purpose of the smart app is to enable the citizens of Tallinn to experience the landscape architecture solution of the Pollinator Highway through AR. In reality, four wall paintings have been painted on the end walls of garages along the Pollinator Highway. These are themed ‘species richness’, ‘sustainable mobility’, ‘reuse of garages’ and ‘leisure activities’, and they hide a virtual information layer that is visible using a specially developed AR application (Avalinn AR). By pointing a smart device at a mural, the visions of the Pollinator Highway are brought to life. It is now possible to get acquainted with the insect and plant species in the area, a glimpse of future open-air activities and an overview of where the transport corridors for cyclists and a prospective tramline are planned.
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.
In Helsinki, in one of the B.Green innovation pilots, new urban greenery mapping methods were created using mobile devices and AR. These mapping methods have been developed within the Agile Piloting program, Green Urban Mapping, in which Forum Virium sought innovative solutions from solution providers for mapping at the scale of individual plants. Two solution providers were chosen to pilot in Kalasatama, Granlund & XD Visuals. Granlund’s innovative mapping application enables the collection of different species by local people, as well as recording of the location and size of individual plants. XD Visuals has created a tool that lets citizens recognise plants and their size through a collected high-resolution point cloud on a platform that functions on any browser-running device. This data could be used to train AI in automatic recognition in the future. In a second mapping pilot in Helsinki, an AR headset and software functionality were combined to guide an AR-assisted drone to map the location, species and size of trees.
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.
‘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.
In Helsinki, a smart and green tram concept was created to reflect the physical locality of green infrastructure solutions. This was communicated through a digital screen installed at a tram stop. In the concept, passengers waiting for a tram could be informed, for example, about nearby parks, accessible courtyards and rooftop gardens in the neighbourhood, as well as opportunities for recreation or relaxation such as communal gardening. The digital screen can be captured on a mobile device using a QR-code, so residents can continue to access the information after they have boarded the tram. This initial concept was expanded in B.Green’s second Open Call for Agile Pilots seeking Urban Green Explorer applications. In this pilot, local green infrastructure-related sites (parks, courtyard and rooftop gardens) in the Sompasaari area of Helsinki can be visited with the help of a mobile device that works as a location-sensing tour guide. This application can trigger new experiences and open up new functionalities in the local space and area in the app for people as the tour progresses, which encourages people to experience the whole area.