Over the years the geospatial industry has wandered around a vast 2D terriitory, one that was largely associated with mapping and cartographic output, and to a lesser extent realizing 3D analytical and design dimensions more fully. There were realistic reasons for this. Geo-computation was simply not capable of handling the large file sizes, networks could not embrace more real-time scenarios, design and spatial contexts were not discussed widely or linked closely and cloud computing architectures were not available to the extent that they are today - at a reasonable cost. With many of these issues resolved, innovation has moved forward to the next level with eyes wide open, minds working and head scratching giving way to the next generation of "where are we going now?"
Mention 3D and all sorts of discussions arise, from different angles, perspectives and with varying interest. While the cinema industry seems to have abandoned 3D, the same cannot be said for the geospatial sector, which, has happily opened its arms to welcome 3D - finally. This is good news. Future cities will depend upon 3D because everything embodies 3D (x, y, z). It is foundational to transport, health, urban design, location, environmental and a host of other spatial representations. Sure there are more 'D's", but 3D are the ones that are most significant.
The coming together of design and geographic information systems (GIS) is a major part of future city development. While many cities have undertaken to use GIS, most have done so in an administrative way, as a means to provide insight into record keeping and locating where streets, buildings and some services are. Far fewer cities have captured the 3D significance that GIS entails when considering design and the associated engineering elements that have traditionally been more tied to engineering principles, doctrine and context.
There are many engineering companies working in the building information modeling (BIM) side of things, just as there are in the GIS side. Indeed, many of these companies boast both GIS and engineering specialists within their teams and product services. It is only natural to think that GIS and engineering would be working closer together. So - announcements like the one Esri-Autodesk decision to work together on future cities this week is not wholly earth shattering - but it is significant and important if these two do put their hearts and spirits into the partnerships. This will effectively merge GIS and engineering at the highest levels, with little wiggle room between them. It makes sense, and is a good step going forward - because other winds are in motion these two may find disruptive.
An example of these winds can be seen through the recent "Google firm wins competition to build high-tech Quayside neighbourhood in Toronto" announcement by the Toronto Star newspaper.
While Esri and Autodesk have long been involved in city development, management of urban data and other activities, Google has usually taken a different approach, tossing the power of cloud computing, connectivity, ease-of-use and wide public participation into projects that ultimately result in input from the ground up, circling new partners and almost beckoning them to join in - through Google of course. Consequently, Google would have a larger 3D overhead view, whereas tool and technology makers would contribute to the overall plan. Why can't GIS and engineering exist within a Google Cloud and distributed from anywhere?
Even so, the next waves of spatial innovation must remain alert to artificial intelligence, higher level analytics involving prediction and estimation and those activities that embody uniquely human character and scope. Tools are only part of the answer at this level of operation and challenging needed solutions. Geo-computation that will likely see Microsoft and Google battling for a major share of 3D cities and future urban reform is likely ahead, with many new tools being developed and distributed by the two alone.
These changes raise intriguing questions about educating students for participating in these directions, since they are already on the horizon along with visualization innovations and other changes sweeping attitudes and use directions by younger minds. The future is interesting and models for working within cities in the future are bound to change many times as we all move forward.