Virtual Cities in Urban Planning, Case Study Example


Sustainability is an important topic within the economic and political facets in the world today. In many respects, environmentalists have been pushing for changes within the infrastructures of mobility, energy, and the use of harmful products. Many urban planners have begun to see the benefits of creating designs and plans where efficiency is the key. The path towards a more sustainable environment is met with hurdles in knowledge, mechanics, and political stubbornness. This case study expounds on the importance of using virtual reality technology in ways to create a visual presentation for city officials and citizens in order to conceptualize a more sustainable system for the city. The analysis provides a case summary and recommendations for an action plan to improve on the topic at hand for others in the field of urban development.

Virtual Cities in Urban Planning: The Uppsala Case Study

As the world begins to make the transition into looking for alternative solutions in the increasing populations and the possibly depleting natural resources. The tasks of urban planning has left developers looking for innovative ways in which to formulate plans. Preparing cities and communities towards a sustainable system that requires much planning and research. Not only are the prior system in place require a needed makeover, but also acceptance on the state and federal government level that are intertwined in political and economic motives. Urban planning is essential in developing economical and efficient systems within communities and larger cities. Within this industry, the instrumental use of visualization and conceptualization are some of the conventional ways in which change is promoted. The tool of visualization is paramount in citizens and officials being able to visualize the planned system in a way that outlines how the way in which it stands to benefit, improve, and interact with their current infrastructure.

This case study sets out to describe the proposed urban plan for the Swedish city Uppsala, and the implementation of the solar powered Personal Rapid (PRT) system currently in place over the past five years that connects their main station to the University and Hospital. Although the usage of virtual reality is not new in the field of urban planning, it is not a common practice within the early stages of urban development. The use of 3D tools are commonly used in ways which promote marketing and education, the design and engineering of structures, and geographical analysis. (Lopez, Lindstrom, 2012) The case study submerges on the purpose of using the tools of virtual simulations for early stage urban planning. Within this case study,  they answer the questions of the hurdles associated with using virtual reality simulation in enabling new kinds of levels of engagement, the builders and who uses them, importance for stakeholders, and if the usage of virtual reality lead to more sustainable urban planning.

The implementation of the PRT system is useful in creating a more energy efficient transportation that has the potential to cut back on the reduction of energy consumption, moving people at a faster rate than other conventional vehicles, air pollution, and operating costs. PRT systems uses “pod cars” that are vehicles that are automated to carry up to six passengers traveling to the same destination on dedicated tracks built to suspend above the ground.  However, the problems lie in that the implementation of the PRT systems require a complete overhaul of the city that has led to much controversy. According to Lopez and Lindstrom the concerns are of technical, operational, regulatory and aesthetical nature. (Lopez, Lindstrom, 2012) Other concerns also include the cost effective nature within larger cities, the design of tracks elevated within the view of pedestrians or window view, and the capacity to transport passengers in an efficient manner in large metropolitans where mass transit stations are overloaded.

Outside research and studies have been conducted in only a handful of cities in particularly Uppsala. The development of the case study was proposed due to the need for Uppsala officials to understand the rationale for PRT systems by commissioning the 3D virtual reality study on the main station. The case study focuses on the use of a more sophisticated 3D virtual system that had been done before that depicted realistic and accurate models of Uppsala in the holistic approach to deploying the system within a real-life scenario of moving traffic and pedestrians. In this case study the authors describe the technology used in meeting the requirements for the system, observations, the methodologies, findings, and the role at which virtual reality played in the development within the process of urban planning. Outside research and information currently exists that include the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) that cover the development of smart cities and urban planning with the implementation of internet, open data, and broadband infrastructures. In the case of virtual reality, the emergence of Second Life renewed interest in virtual reality in not only generational effect but also in the perspectives of marketers and developers. The technology has progressed towards a more updated model with architecture and urban development tools used in Open Simulator. Their capabilities extend further for 3D modeling and simulation of pedestrian and traffic scenarios.

The methodology used for the conducting the case study uses mainly qualitative data that focus on the scope of virtual reality tools used in planning, forming, and deploying the transportation system. The case study follows the process of brainstorming, decision, and the influence of using virtual reality simulation in the urban planning process. The study alternative approach in the blending of the grounded theory methodology and opportunist approach in forgoing the traditional experiment and hypothesis but rely on observations and notes that identify the importance of the virtual cities to form a hypothesis. Uppsala begin their study in 2009 based on 750×750 m2 area around the main train station in order to visualize the “pod” car station handling of large groups of people. The simulation helped to put stakeholder and officials at ease with the depiction of easy traffic flow, and the operative duties of transporting large groups of passengers. The first conducted study was a success after showing cost benefits, and the flow of traffic was viable they moved on to the second phase in 2011 regarding 3×1.5 km2, area within the city. This study help to visualize how the system would operate in getting to key destinations like the University and Hospital. Completed in 2012, the virtualization was shown to officials with the use of video that combines computer animation and images captured from the virtual cities in order to depict the PRT system. Their observations of the studied showed that within urban planning, many planners are not familiar with working with 3D simulations. The authors detailed how they had to change the approach to stakeholders due to lack of knowledge of using the tools, instead relying on intermediary expert. However, the model was entirely built from scratch by the team and became an effective tool in brainstorming and the decision making process. Through their observations, officials from the hospital and stakeholders were thoroughly engaged in the usage and development of the virtual city and more importantly independently planning for other areas. In answering the most important question of the case study in terms of sustainable development, the results were encouraging as the use of the tools didn’t serve as a distraction, but instead a conversation starter the benefits of using the instruments as apparent as the phase commissioned on large part of the city.

More awareness and knowledge needs to be done on the importance of using virtual tools in urban planning. Recommended is that officials and researchers conducting the plan be knowledgeable in the tools are plan for hiring an expert that will be able to make the tools more simplified and easy to use. Conduct test runs within the virtual world using different real life situations in order to gauge the operative performance in case of emergencies or high volumes of traffics. In delivering the plan to officials use video put together to showcase the affectability of the sustainable plan in order to influence officials and citizens of the viability of implementing the resourceful plan. In doing so, there needs to thorough research conducted on the financial side to show the cost/benefit analysis, breakdown in resources that would be used or improved, and the level of efficiency benefited for the entire city and the people. Sustainability is possible if people were presented with the right images of how it can improve their way of life. In order to showcase those benefits, urban planners in building sustainable systems must use innovative tools in developing visualization that can be changed or constructed to serve as an effective system.


Lopes, Cristina Videira; Lindström, Christer. “Virtual Cities in Urban Planning: The Uppsala Case Study.” Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research 7. 3 (Dec 2012): 88-100. Retrieved from