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practice Virtual Cities 2009

Img-AdwardAward finalist 2009

Virtual Cities 2009

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Acronym of the case:

VirtualCities2009

Web address of the case:

Country of the case:

Netherlands

City/region:

the Netherlands

Posting Date:

2 October 2009

Last Edited Date:

02 October 2009

Author:

Klooster Rick (City of Apeldoorn)
Virtual Cities 2009 Logorick.klooster's picture
Award finalist 2009

Type of initiative

  • Project or service-imgProject or service
  • Network-imgNetwork
  • Strategic initiative-imgStrategic initiative

Case Abstract

Since the previous edition of the eGovernment awards in 2007 in Lisbon the virtual cities made a lot of progress.

The Dutch cities of Apeldoorn, Helmond and Tilburg are utilizing virtual world technology (VirtuoCity) to support the participation of their citizens in important city reconstruction projects since 2004. These virtual cities enable access to the virtual 3D presentation of the city, as it is at present or as it will be in the future, over the Internet with relatively basic computers. While navigating, they are provided with all kinds of multi-media information including video, can leave their remarks in a forum, vote for alternative designs, chat with other visitors or have a coversation using the newest voice chat option. A breakthrough was the application of online voting in Tilburg, whereby citizens could submit (binding) votes on one of the three designs for the central marketplace. 

After participating in the 2007 eGovernment awards the cities intensified their cooperation developing the platform and sharing knowledge with other stakeholders. With succes. Currently there are about 13 cities (including Rotterdam and Utrecht), one of the twelve provinces and 4 other large national companies (like schiphol airport, the dutch national railways, the dutch directorate for public works and water management and the dutch national police) using the tool for various applications.

Besides being used as a communication tool for the cities urban plans by now it is also used to organize virtual meetings in a virtual meeting room, as a virtual youth center and to test the public safety.

Finally, the functionality of the Virtual Cities has greatly expanded. Much attention has been devoted to improving the user interface allowing the visitors of the virtual cities to access them even easier. It is now even possible to talk to each other using the voice chat function.

Description of the case

Start date - End date
January 2004 (Ongoing)
Date operational
November 2004
Target Users
Citizen | Civil society
Target Users Description

The main target users are professionals involved in the planning and construction processes and the citizens living in the cities and province interested in the plans. During the 2007 eGovernment award only Apeldoorn, Helmond and Tilburg where using the platform which was equal to a total population of 442,000 inhabitants.

Because of the rapidly growing number of participants the total population of all participating authorities currently equals over 4,200,000 inhabitants. Which is a quarter of the population of the Netherlands. Also a lot of people from elsewhere in the Netherlands and even from many European countries are visiting these virtual worlds.

Scope
Local (city or municipality) | National | Regional (sub-national)
Status
Operation
Language(s)
Dutch | English

Policy Context and Legal Framework

The Dutch government takes a strong position on the application of ICT, the proliferation of (broadband) internet and the development of eGovernment. This stimulated the Virtual Cities to initiate activities in these fields. The virtual Cities would not be operational if not such an important part of the population (>75%) has been connected to broadband Internet (cable, ADSL en higher).

Project Size and Implementation

Type of initiative
Participation
Overall Implementation approach
Partnerships between administration and/or private sector and/or non-profit sector
Technology choice
Mainly (or only) open standards
Funding source
Public funding national | Public funding regional | Public funding local | Private sector
Project size
Implementation: €500-999,000
Yearly cost:
€1-49,000

Implementation and Management Approach

The first city, Helmond, (www.virtueelhelmond.nl/en) started communicating via a virtual world as part of a major city centre reconstruction project, directly affecting about 8,000 people. Later on, the application was used for polling the preference for construction of playgrounds for children and to discuss the reconstruction of the city’s marketplace. The city of Apeldoorn (www.virtueelapeldoorn.nl) started using virtual worlds for the same purposes: to elaborate reconstruction plans of a certain neighbourhood and to develop the Caterplein, the local centre for youngsters. The city of Tilburg (www.virtueeltilburg.nl) strives at a frontline position in the utilisation of ICT in optimising services rendered to their citizens. After Helmond and Apeldoorn, they decided to develop VirtuoCity as a standard infrastructure for communicating reconstruction projects with the inhabitants.

Because of the tight cooperation of the virtual cities it's very easy for new cities to participate. A new user group will organize the cities even better which will stimulate the growth even more. Since the virtual cities have reached a critical mass of a quarter of the dutch citizens, the treshold for other cities to participate has dropped to a minimum.

 

 

Technology solution

The virtual cities are build on the VirtuoCity technology developed by Cebra for multi user application of virtual worlds over the Internet to relatively modest client computers and a small plug-in. It makes use of the broadband communication possibilities of today’s Internet (via ADSL or cable), by concentrating the computing intensive processes on a central server and by distributing only the parts of the virtual world that are of interest for the local user. Additions made for one, are rapidly transferred for the other virtual cities. The virtual city concept can be distributed internationally rather easy. The 3D models are constructed with standard software and brought to life with the VirtuoCity platform.

Impact, innovation and results

Impact

  • People are provided with excellent information and insight in city reconstruction plans, on a 24/7 basis. They are able to evaluate the past (panorama views) with the present (webcam) and the future (plans). People are provided with the possibility to give their feed back in a well-structured way, and in some cases to vote for certain alternatives. While navigating through the world, citizens and stakeholders are able to exchange their views. This is truly an innovative way to support the participation of citizens in decision making processes. The Virtual Cities remain and are used for various other applications.
  • Virtual Apeldoorn is structurally used to explain and discuss planned changes in several areas of the city. Normally those meeting suffer an atmosphere of resentment. Many people have problems with understanding a spatial design from a paper or vocal explanation. In this case the attendees reacted positive. They felt better informed and taken seriously. They appreciated the possibility to visit the virtual plans from their home and give additional feedback. In conclusion: many more inhabitants are being informed much better, felt taken seriously, and use the option to respond in a structured way.
  • Based on the experiences with colleague virtual cities, the board of the city of Tilburg took the important political decision to allow the inhabitants to vote for one of three selected alternatives for a new design of the central marketplace (“Heuvel”). The city council decided to execute the design that received the majority of all votes. Within 3 weeks about 14,500 visitors looked at the alternative designs, took part in a very interesting chat discussion and/or gave their response in the forum. Alternative C received most of the votes. The reconstruction of this alternative is currently under preparation. The cooperation of the Virtual Cities forms a strong basis for further development and innovation.
  • Based on the experiences and on the data from citizens documented by the systems, a roadmap for further research and development is regularly being updated. Interesting functionalities such as the voice-chat option are developed, and the usage of DigiD for identification purposes in the online voting processes is under preparation. Another interesting application is time travelling for educational purposes (showing the evolution of a certain area as function of time).
  • In the city of Venlo the city council decided that all major reconstructions within the city must be communicated using Virtual Venlo.  
  • In The City of Apeldoorn the Virtual City was used intensively to communicate the plans to build five new windmills. As a result the procedure went much smoother.

Track record of sharing

Especially for the sharing of knowledge, the three leading cities, with the help of state aid, started up a national knowledge platform on this subject. On www.virtueelnl.nl it is possible for all users to publish their lessons learned and share them with other stakeholders. The platform is designed using the open source content management system Joomla, making it very flexible and easy expandable.

Additionally, the involved cities regularly give lectures on the subject during both national and international events. As an example a lecture was given during the Forum for the future of democracy in Madrid organized by the Council of Europe.

Lessons learnt

Lesson 1 - Inhabitants respond very positive to the Virtual City approach. They feel better informed about spatial plans and taken more seriously. They take the opportunity to respond and to discuss the subject with other visitors of the virtual city.

Lesson 2 - This kind of technology and functionality needs to be implemented as a normal municipal infrastructure.

Lesson 3 - Coming up with excellent ideas is important. Being able, in one way or the other, to implement new ideas,represents the real challenge. The quality of the city’s administration determines whether decisions can be reached within months instead of years.

Lesson 4 - This tool for interaction and communication offers various new possibilities. Much has to be learnt about how and when this tool can be applied in an optimal way. For achieving sufficient progress, Virtual Cities should be applied proactively, in a creative and flexible way. Many experiments may be expected from the Virtual Cities.

Lesson 5 - Research by the Dutch Railways, now a user of the virtual world, has shown that research in a virtual world is a good substitute for research in a tangible physical environment. After a few minutes, visitors are already experiencing the virtual world similar to the physical. 

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