Building Ottawa’s digital twin | Ottawa Citizen

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Ottawa city planners have a powerful new tool to view the city’s past, present and future with just the click of a mouse.

Ottawa’s “digital twin” leverages high-resolution aerial imagery, page after page of bylaws and technical specifications, geological surveys and countless other data sets to form a virtual 3D duplicate of the city.

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From the top of its tallest buildings to the depths of its deepest infrastructure, the digital twin shows Ottawa like it has never been seen before.

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“If you’ve ever renovated your home, the first thing you ask is ‘What will it be like?’” says Randal Rodger, the city’s geospatial solutions, technology and analytics program manager.

“That is the true power of the digital twin. We can immerse you in a 3D environment. You can see what it will look like, but also see a new proposal in its context and realistically. That is very powerful for people.”

Construction of the digital twin began alongside Ottawa’s official plan, which was adopted in 2022, and the comprehensive zoning bylaw amendment, which is now under review and due for completion by the end of 2025.

Want to see what your neighborhood would look like in 20 years if the city continues to build denser and taller? The digital twin can show you.

How will a proposed development affect views of downtown? What would Bank Street be like if all the overhead wires were buried? How close is that underground parking lot to the main sewer? When were all the houses on your street built?

The city “presents policies in a lot of graphs and numbers and they are not always easy for humans to understand,” Rodger says.

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To demonstrate, he shows a table of numbers that lays out the zoning requirements for a particular city. The computer uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to translate that data into a visual representation of what those regulations look like in the real world.

“When you look at it, it’s just a bunch of numbers; It’s like a cookbook for policymakers and planners. and it becomes an exercise in mathematics and thinking,” he says. “But if I take that table of numbers and turn it into a model, then I begin to intuitively understand what it means.”

Residents don’t like that planned 40-story skyscraper? Click, click, click. This is what it would look like on 25 floors.

Users of the digital twin can put on virtual reality headsets to immerse themselves in the virtual world. Or city staff can use 3D printers to produce a physical model that residents can see and touch.

Rodger and geospatial strategist Jean-Françoise Dionne led the city’s team along with Esri Canada, a geographic information services company, to develop the digital twin. They used planes to map the city with lidar (light detection and ranging, which uses lasers to measure distances), obtaining maps with an accuracy of six centimeters in the urban center and 13 centimeters in rural areas.

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Many other data sets can be added to that base model: soil types, tree cover, stormwater permeability, building shadows, floodplains.

The city has collected data like that for a long time, Rodger said, but it wasn’t always very usable.

“It existed on a server somewhere and was very difficult to access. The concept of the digital twin is to get that information to the people, to the staff, and then add the analysis.”

One overlay looks at the city in terms of the “15-minute neighborhood” – the concept that everyone should have easy access to essential amenities and services. Rodger manipulates the map to Westboro, where individual buildings are color-coded by their 15-minute rating.

“For 15-minute neighborhoods we need to understand if there are services. There’s a school? Is there a daycare 15 minutes away? And if there is not, how can the infrastructure be changed? “Adding a pedestrian bridge across the canal, for example, could open up an entire neighborhood to services that were previously restricted.”

Another overlay shows the city center with the maximum allowable building height marked in red. Another shows how much roof area is available in a neighborhood for solar panels. One shows the treetops and heat islands of the city.

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Faced with a housing crisis and rapidly changing provincial and federal housing rules, the city must be able to act quickly to respond. Part of the $176 million Ottawa received from the federal housing acceleration fund in February is being used to support the digital twin project, Rodger said.

“A lot of the things we did in the past were done over long periods of time. We were looking at between one and five years to update a land use plan,” he said. “Those deadlines are too slow now. We need information in real time. We need to know if he is ready for the shovel.”

The city hopes to have the digital twin available for public use on Engage Ottawa by May 31, the same day it submits its first draft of the comprehensive zoning bylaw amendment.

Not all of the data will be available for public use due to privacy, property and security concerns, but Rodger said a slider feature will allow people to see the city as it looks today and how it could look in the future under proposed new zoning bylaws. . .

“We can see the numbers and density that are proposed, but what does that really mean?” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do: engage people so they can see what the impact will be as the city develops over time.”

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