Physical models and animations are wonderful marketing tools. The model of Shanghai mentioned in the recent Armchair Mayor column is a good example of that, and it worked! See how impressed our Armchair Mayor was as someone there to engage in business activities? Their marketing tool did its job perfectly.
Now picture yourself as a resident of Shanghai. Is the model as useful now? Sure, it's impressive to look at, but can you see what the proposed developments in Shanghai will look like from your home? From your favourite hiking spot?
Marketing tools do not work well as public engagement tools because they don't allow the public to have control over what they get to see. Physical models give a sense of scale similar to maps but do not provide a way to see views from homes, parks, lakes and favourite hiking trails. Animations can show those things, but only from a select few vantage points. Their lack of flexibility limits the perception of scale and additional views can't be generated from everywhere (at least not within a reasonable cost).
Good public engagement is about letting the public choose what they want to see and showing it to them, whether it shows the project in a good light or not.
Real-time 3D models solve some of the problems associated with physical models and animations. They show an entire project and surrounding area, with enough detail for the public to see from any vantage point what they will be looking at during various phases of development and at project completion. A simple controller is used to fly around, zip over to a given street or pan around a point of interest. It's a great tool for public engagement because it takes control from the proponent and gives it to the public. Want to see what a project will look like from your favourite fishing hole? Just fly on over and take a look. That’s transparency at its best.
My company has produced real-time 3D models for a number of contentious projects in the Thompson-Okanagan area including the four-lane realignment of Highway 97 between Winfield and Oyama (currently under construction) and, more recently, the South Thompson eco-depot in Pritchard. Feedback on the use of real-time 3D models for the public engagement portion of these projects has been overwhelmingly positive.
I hope those interested in better public engagement will consider real-time 3D. It’s really a better way to go.