A software rendering of Sidney Spit Park, located on the northern part of Sidney Island. (Contributed)

Royal Roads researcher builds virtual environments to study real-world effects of development

Video game software provides dynamic management tools for community planning

A research project underway at Royal Roads University adds a new dimension to observing the consequences of development proposals before they happen.

It became “pretty” clear that creating a 3D visualization of a community that people can “walk through” and hear sounds from the environment would “be useful for a variety of contexts,” Rob Newell said.

The post-doctoral researcher was recently awarded a $25,000 grant from The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to create a tool to virtually manage and strategize urban planning.

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As a doctoral researcher at University of Victoria in 2017, Newell used a video game creation platform called Unity to create a 3D representation of Sidney Spit Park. Users can observe the area virtually, from land to coast, and assess it from different angles through a first-person perspective.

For his latest research, Newell is creating a virtual model of Squamish, a growing mountainside town that is a popular tourist destination for adventurers and nature lovers alike. Newell used public records data and observations to create a customizable 3D map of the town.

Newell said he has consulted the local government and community to come up with different scenarios, or “development directions,” adjusting his models based on their feedback.

“So we’re saying, in 20 years, if we develop just all low-density residential, this is what we might come up with. Or if we do more mixed-use density nodes in different neighbourhoods, this is what we might come up with.”

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If a certain development style is favoured, he added, the software can show a “whole variety of environmental, social and economic” factors that would be affected.

“These are things like access to manage encroachment on habitat, employment, local employment, business viability, and walkability.”

Because the quantitative insights can get “quite abstract,” people can use the mapping program to “see and react” in terms of their sense of place.

The research aims to show that various environmental effects “complement each other,” Newell said. The value of the software as a “complementary” planning tool will be to look at a scenario on the spot, he noted.

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Newell said he is currently in the final stages of “prototyping,” which will be followed by modelling the physical environments.

A town like Squamish, with the potential for major growth and a variety of terrain, gave Newell the opportunity to project growth’s effect on viewsheds. The final product will give other communities a tool for “better inclusive community planning,” he said.

“It could be adapted anywhere, the West Shore included,” he noted.



swikar.oli@goldstreamgazette.com

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