Are Miniature Cities Useful "Models for Urban Planning"?

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Photo: Zachary Zavislak

Architectural models are beautiful things, and even in these days of Google Earth and electronic modelling they are still being built and updated. Wired displays a lovely collection of them in an article about their use in urban planning.

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Terrence Russell writes in Wired:

the growth of municipalities like Dubai, London, and Sydney is stirring renewed interest in miniature cities as planning tools. The new crown jewel of shrunken sprawl resides on the third floor of the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center: At more than 6,500 square feet, the stunning depiction of China's most populous city circa 2020 is one of the largest models of its type in the world.

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He notes that Sydney's model is beneath the glass floor of the Customs house.

Though constructed in 1998, the Customs House ensures its continued accuracy by having the model regularly updated to reflect changes in the skyline.

I am not sure I agree with Russell- those models are tourist attractions, not planning tools. People don't look at cities from the air, unless you are from Dubai and your developments look like falcons and palm trees. People walk on streets and look up at buildings. With 3D modelling technology you can get down at ground level and see it that way, without using an endoscope, as in this demo of Google earth touring ancient Rome.

It also removes the control from the owners of the model and costs a lot less; Architect Jeremy Nicholls of Cobourg, Ontario built a model of his small town as a way to fight City Hall as part of a local Architectural preservation society; developers' renderings always look pretty and are taken from the best vantage point, but it is much harder to pull one over when anyone can virtually walk around the building at ground level.

Architectural models of cities are things of beauty and one can stare at them forever. But useful tools for urban planning? Their time is over.

More in Wired

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