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News & Updates

BPDA Launches a Web-Based 3D Smart Model for Public Use

May 08, 2018

The Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) today launched a web-based three dimensional (3D) base model of the City of Boston, available for public use for free on the agency’s website, The 3D geographic information system (GIS) model supports the BPDA’s goals to implement new solutions to solve complex challenges facing Boston, while providing greater transparency and increased community engagement.

“By providing a sophisticated planning tool like our 3D smart model to the public free of charge, we are creating a new resource to improve the efficiency and quality of our work, empowering residents with a real-world visualisation tool to imagine the future of our neighborhoods, and leveling the playing field for all who are invested in planning Boston’s urban context,” said Brian Golden, Director of the BPDA. “The BPDA will continue to improve our tools and processes to increase transparency, and better engage the community in the work that we do to create a more prosperous, resilient, and vibrant city for all.”

Boston is considered one of the first in the nation to launch a current realistic ArcGIS 3D smart model that integrates conventional GIS 2D data. The model builds on Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s commitment to ensuring city data is open and accessible to the public, and has begun to integrate data from the City of Boston’s Assessing Department, the BPDA’s Article 80 process and results from Climate Ready Boston.

In addition to being available for public use, the 3D smart model provides BPDA staff with tools that will create real-world visualisations for planning Boston’s urban context. The model will be used to support planning initiatives and strategic planning areas; review development proposals; and conduct in-house urban design studies, shadow analysis and zoning development capacity modeling. It will also serve as a tool to better understand the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on Boston’s built environment.

The model includes a visibility assessment tool that will allow planners to determine what portion of a proposed development can be seen from a certain location or viewpoint, and a daylight tool to quickly access shadows that will be created by a proposed development.

“The City of Boston makes much of their geographic data open for public consumption as open data, and BPDA takes full advantage of this in their evaluations,” said Matt Ball, writing about the 3D model for the Esri Blog. “These data include such information as parcel ownership, zoning districts, historic landmarks, and open space. Analytical data products include such information as the extent of different levels of sea-level rise, an important consideration for all coastal cities.”

The BPDA’s 3D smart model has been in development for several years in collaboration with Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), Paul Cote from pbcGIS, and BPDA staff. Within the past few years, the 3D GIS software and hardware improvements have allowed for the publication and display on desktops, smartphones and other mobile devices. The use of Esri ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Online, City Engine and SketchUp as the enabling software programs allows content to be published to the web.

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