Virtual reality is delivered via an environment, normally computer-generated,
that replicates a real or imagined world that instils a sense of presence in the
user. Virtual environments with geographic content—such as is needed for urban
planning—are termed Virtual Geographic Environments (VGE—Gong and Lin
2006 ). Schroeder et al. ( 2001 ) provide a good discussion of virtual reality in rela-
tion to geography in relation to one of the earliest implementations, Activeworlds.
A collaborative VGE (CVGE) brings in distributed elements that enable remote
communication and planning (Lin et al. 2010 ).
Urban planning is a process term covering a variety of professional activities
(e.g. urban design, landuse planning, transportation planning) and using a variety
of tools (e.g. housing programmes, zoning). It purports to represent the needs of
all urban groups, including minorities, is political in nature, stresses evaluation of
alternative solutions and is future-oriented (Laurini 2001 ).
1.4 Previous Research
Supporting spatial technology is important to urban planning and design (the use of
CAD and GIS is well established), with research considering system models (e.g.
the City System Model (CSM)—Becker et al. 2013 ) as well as predominantly repre-
sentational ones, such as the VE built and tested in the research project reported on
in this chapter. Considering both representation and supporting information, Métral
et al. ( 2013 ) report on an investigation of visualization techniques that renders not
only virtual 3D city models but the ancillary information that is attached to it.
The link between VR and urban planning is strong then: “…exposure to
computer games is generating an expectation that similar techniques could be used
to show what a future city will 'look' and 'feel' like” (p. 284) and the inner city rede-
velopment trend within the profession is such that demands like this will increase
due to an increased need for consultation (Axford et al. 2007 ), with a wider range of
client types and global reach (Innes and Booher 2000 ). So it is that Döllner ( 2007 )
presents geographic VE as not only “…an essential user interface paradigm for geo-
spatial information” but also a specific means of communicating plans, but there has
been a slow uptake within urban decision making arenas due to fear of cost and lack
of awareness of new technological developments of this kind (Axford et al. 2007 ).
In summary, Döllner ( 2007 ) has specified the contributing elements and desired
qualities of geographic VEs. Elements include terrain models, 3D building mod-
els, 3D vegetation models, georeferenced thematic data, 2D orthophotos, 2D
planning data and metavisualization objects (virtual sky, compass, legend, annota-
tion). Desired qualities include real-time rendering, convincing vegetation, direct
editing, seamless integration of 2D and 3D, views at all scales (map, bird's eye,
pedestrian), landscape interaction (walking-flying switch, compass) and scal-
ability (enabled by levels of detail in the VE objects). He has noted that VGE