Urban Planning Meets Online Gaming

NYU-Poly Introduces Betaville, Digital Tool to Revolutionize Public Planning

More than 400 urban planners, designers, developers and architects today were invited to test and join in perfecting an online technology that may revolutionize the way public environments are designed and built. The program, called Betaville, was introduced at the Municipal Art Society’s Summit for New York City by Carl Skelton, assistant professor of digital media at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) and one of the creators of Betaville.

Betaville allows all stakeholders in a development project—from architects and builders to neighborhood residents — to participate in and influence the end result.

By fusing the technology that drives online games such as Sim City, where users interact in a virtual world, with the type of modeling software used by urban developers, Betaville aims to revise the traditional urban development process. Rather than a closed-door environment where near-final proposals are revealed to the public, the Betaville process relies on the continual refinement of a design through group participation. Because it is so easy to use and provides quick 3D images that can be viewed from many angles, Betaville will encourage early, collaborative change. The program aims to reduce project time and cost and ease the friction that often arises between developers and communities.

The program is scalable, and intended for use on small projects such as creating a bike lane or median, as well as major developments including green spaces, public art installations or construction of a sports or residential complex.

Skelton, whose team at NYU-Poly developed Betaville in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences in Bremen, Germany, believes this open exchange will yield more dynamic, better-utilized public spaces. “This technology allows us to bridge the gap between the technical arm of urban development and the ultimate stakeholders—the people who live and work in the community,” he said. “If a user-generated television network like YouTube is possible, why not user-generated cities?”

Betaville is built on an open-source gaming engine and offers full-scale visualizations of communities that can be used as “base models” to propose changes to the environment. Within the virtual world, links can be embedded to information about the history of a site, zoning considerations and development proposals. Users can suggest changes, and these can be modeled directly in an alternate version of the world, where browsers are free to criticize, suggest and debate through a text forum.

By issuing the open call for participation in the development of Betaville, its developers hope to hone its features and demonstrate its value for public arts, architecture and space projects.

The development of Betaville is supported by a Cultural Innovation Fund grant by the Rockefeller Foundation. More information about Betaville is available at http://bxmc.poly.edu/betaville.

About Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Polytechnic Institute of New York University (formerly Polytechnic University), an affiliate of New York University, is a comprehensive school of engineering, applied sciences, technology and research, and is rooted in a 156-year tradition of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship: i2e. The institution, founded in 1854, is the nation’s second-oldest private engineering school. In addition to its main campus in New York City at MetroTech Center in downtown Brooklyn, it also offers programs at sites throughout the region and around the globe. Globally, NYU-Poly has programs in Israel, China and is an integral part of NYU's campus in Abu Dhabi.