Improving urban environment with 3D modeling and big data

November 04, 2016 11:04
3D modeling and big data technology can be applied to simulate the combined effects of multiform changes in the urban environment. Photo: ForCity

As you head north out of Paris along the A1 freeway, towards the international airport of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, you are entering a zone that holds a dubious distinction. With a plethora of corporate headquarters and logistics hubs, daily road traffic in excess of 195,000 vehicles and the lion's share of France's international arrivals and departures, the airport corridor has the most polluted air anywhere in the French capital.

To counter the problem, the local administration has set itself an ambitious target: reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of four between now and 2050. It's not going to be easy. According to the Ile-de-France region, achieving those 75 percent cuts will call for nothing less than "a paradigm shift".

To accomplish it, local planners have joined forces with a startup from Lyon called ForCity to create a brand new way of preparing for the future.

ForCity's solution—named R'City—uses 3D modeling and big data technology to simulate the combined effects of multiform changes in the urban environment, and will be up and running in 2017.

"It enables us to model the impact of initiatives by both public bodies and individual actors, and to share that data with every potential player in the territory," said ForCity’s President François Grosse.

"We can plot the effects on sustainable mobility of a new train line, inter-corporate carpooling or a new bike-sharing station. It's a way of revealing things that will only become visible in the future, and planning for them today."

Founded in 2014, ForCity was inspired by Grosse and partner Thomas Lagier's previous experience as senior managers with the French utility company Veolia.

"We saw how modern technology has made it possible to take a brand new approach to the long-term effectiveness of decision-making," said Grosse.

Their system crunches numbers from a vast array of data to show clients the various ways their initiatives could pan out over time. Accessed remotely on any computer using a login and password, it supplies an immersive 3D model of any given environment.

By changing its characteristics and entering future developments on a timeline, clients can create a range of alternative scenarios and visualize the potential consequences of their decisions.

ForCity's unique technology immediately found itself in demand, enabling the young company to self-finance its business development. It earns revenue by charging a consultancy fee to analyze each client’s particular needs and design a dedicated app, followed by an annual subscription fee for hosting the app and keeping it up to date.

Although only in existence for two years, ForCity is already involved in a number of large-scale international projects. One of them is being carried out for Veolia in Hong Kong using a tool to support the development of the Kowloon East district.

These urban developments—requiring their own dedicated transport, utility and public service infrastructures—will exert a profound impact on Hong Kong’s future equilibrium. An initial simulation, modeling the new zones' waste disposal and energy systems, will be operational in 2017.

The startup owes its success to a resolutely contemporary vision of cities and their evolution. In this interconnected world, what happens in one sphere automatically affects what happens in another, while events today will have irrevocable consequences tomorrow.

"Everything is connected," François Grosse explained.

"Everyone is simultaneously a receptor and an agent of this city-system. What we do is offer a means of linking things together in the same place over time."

When a decision's future consequences leave no room for error, it's reassuring to be able to swap the crystal ball for the computer screen.

This is the ninth article in a 12-part series. Read more at

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The Hong Kong Economic Journal and EJ Insight are among 20 global media organizations that participated in this year's Solutions&Co, organized by Sparknews, an international social impact amplifier.

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With 3D modeling, people can create a range of alternative scenarios and visualize the potential consequences of their decisions. Photo: ForCity

A journalist at Sparknews