Community Engagement Trends

Using 3D Participatory Planning to Enrich Community Engagement: Lessons From a City Planning Project in Turku, Finland

November 18, 2021
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The University of Turku and the City of Turku in Finland collaborated on a pilot project that tested 3D participatory planning. Their research team created an engagement survey based on 3D maps. The public was asked to comment on the city planning project — the redevelopment plan of the Aninkainen district in Turku, which is one of the largest urban areas in Finland.

The initial idea for the pilot project came from the university’s GreenPlace research project, which measures the effects of urban green space on wellbeing. GreenPlace uses both public participation methods and digital 3D models in its research. The project is headed by Dr. Nora Fagerholm, who works as an adjunct professor at the university’s Department of Geography and Geology. 

We wanted to find out how 3D models could be integrated into urban planning practices. Finnish cities are starting to become aware of the potential of 3D modeling, so we wanted to see what that could mean for urban planning in practice.
— Dr. Nora Fagerholm, Department of Geography and Geology

Testing Out 3D Participatory Planning in Practice 

However, problems appeared when the researchers tried to find a way to prepare a 3D participatory planning survey in ‘traditional’ map-based platforms. The models also needed to support browser-based usage.

”At first we tried with another tool without much success. Then we got in touch with the team at Maptionnaire,” Fagerholm recalls.

”We leapt at the opportunity of participating in this pilot project”, says Maarit Kahila, CEO of Mapita, the company that develops the Maptionnaire software. “3D modeling will be a key component in urban planning and public participation in the future”, she continues.

Before the survey could be launched, Mapita needed to find a provider for the 3D model. This is where Sova 3D’s technology came into the picture to help integrate 3D models into Maptionnaire’s map-based software.

”For us, it was very important that this new technology could be studied also on a more practical level,” Kahila remarks.                     

an example of a 3d participatory planning model from Turku
Turku residents were asked for their opinion on the plans to transform the former Aninkainen concert hall block. This was achieved with a Maptionnaire survey with an integrated 3D model.

As the subject of the survey, Fagerholm’s team chose the redevelopment of Aninkainen, which is currently the site of one of Turku’s largest redevelopment initiatives. In particular, the focus was on a block with an old concert hall that the city needs to find new uses for. The research team and the city’s planners collaborated in designing the survey.

The Benefits and Challenges of 3D Participatory Planning

Fagerholm appreciates that 3D models give the viewer a clear picture of the planning area. They also make the survey more exciting for both the respondent and the researcher.

Navigating on 3D maps takes a bit of practice, and they usually don’t work that well on mobile devices. Mobile devices are an important part of today’s user experience and therefore we must find solutions to this.
a screenshot of resulting data from a 3d participatory planning survey
In total, the 135 people placed approximately 450 comments in the survey. The different colors denote the different themes of the comments.

”In the Aninkainen survey, 60% of respondents found the 3D maps easy to use. What’s challenging is the people who struggle with navigating even on standard 2D maps. In this sense 3D maps do not differ that much from more conventional maps,” remarks Fagerholm. 

The pilot project gave the City of Turku new perspectives and ideas on how 3D technology could be employed in public participation.

3D enables citizens to understand the plan better than on a ‘traditional’ 2D map, and thus also makes it easier to comment on the plan.
— Matilda Laukkanen, City Planner in Turku

”It also helps the general public to understand how the urban environment will be transformed by the new plan,” continues plan architect Nella Karhulahti.

What Laukkanen finds challenging in using 3D models in urban planning is that often the first public consultations are done when the new plan is still at a very preliminary stage. If the plan is still in the drafting stage, it can be tricky to turn it into a precise model. Furthermore, if the 3D model isn’t very detailed, it can be difficult for the public to see what the plan will look like in reality.

”It should also be remembered that new technologies are never accessible for all. New methods usually benefit and attract the younger demographic and those residents who are skilled in using digital technology,” says the city’s project manager Mika Rajala.

Experience how this 3D participatory planning survey looked like for its participants.

The Future of 3D Modeling in City Planning 

Cities are gradually integrating their data models into 3D reality. 3D modeling enables plan visualizations to convey a sense of height and scale. When used in public participation initiatives, it makes it possible to learn more about how citizens experience urban space.

From the perspective of public participation methods and dialogue, the technology makes diverse spatial information more accessible for citizens. They can also comment in a more precise manner, and can even leave comments on the roofs and walls of buildings in the modeled environment. From the perspective of urban planning, 3D is here to stay. 

 3D models that cover the entire city will be an integral part of urban planning processes in the future.
— Nella Karhulahti, Plan Architect, and Mika Rajala, Project Manager

“Collaborating with Mapita, Sova 3D and the City of Turku has been very easy,” comments Fagerholm. ”I’m eagerly waiting for the next stages in our research project and the progress of 3D modeling in urban planning in general. Our aim is to collect comparative data from Finland and then run a similar project in Copenhagen, which is the other urban area participating in this project.” 

Mapita’s CEO Kahila says that the company will continue their work in this field: “We’ve followed the development of browser-based 3D solutions and are very eager to participate in making 3D public participation environments as accessible and user-friendly as the more traditional map-based surveys.” 

*Read more from the GreenPlace project blog: Online 3D-based participatory mapping for urban planning – pilot case shows usability challenges exist especially with smart phones

*In Finnish: Raportti 3D-kyselyn tuloksista ja käyttökokemuksesta: VEHREYTTÄ JA RENTOA OLESKELUTILAA KAIVATAAN ANINKAISTEN KONSERTTITALON KORTTELIIN – Raportti 3D-näkymiä pilotoivan asukaskyselyn tuloksista ja käyttökokemuksesta

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