‘City as Lab’ collaboration wins award for innovation offering digital vision of Nottingham

A state-of-the-art 3D tool, which is helping to drive transformation and modernise city planning, has won a prestigious Geography in Government 2024 award for outstanding innovation.

The University of Nottingham’s City as Lab initiative in a collaboration led by Nottingham City Council funded by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, won the Innovation Category and was named Overall Winner across all categories as part of this year’s Geography in Government Awards for the project ‘A 3D Digital Twin for Nottingham: Transforming an Ambitious Vision into Virtual Reality.’

City as Lab co-designed and hosts the large-scale Projection Augmented Relief Model (PARM) of Nottingham, led by Dr Gary Priestnall of the university’s School of Geography, whose contribution was fundamental to the team who will accept the award presented at the Royal Geographical Society’s annual ceremony on 3 June.

The PARM features a large 3D-printed replica of Nottingham City Council’s existing digital city model, brought to life through projected maps, imagery and animations. PARM offers a very accessible and natural way for people to view a landscape, and this innovative approach has many exciting social and economic applications for planning and beyond.

Dr Priestnall said: “This project is allowing us to realise the full potential of PARM. My research using small PARM displays in museums and visitor centres has shown it to be engaging and informative, but we can now take it to the next level.

“The energy and vision of the City Council team is helping to promote the value of 3D for both spatial decision making and public engagement, and PARM is going to be central to this. Through the many and diverse groups visiting City as Lab, we are witnessing the power of PARM to help people think spatially, and to promote discussions around place and landscape. We now have an amazing resource and are so excited about where it could go from here.”

City as Lab – described as a dynamic ‘living laboratory’ – offers state-of-the-art pilot space on the university’s Castle Meadow Campus to connect researchers, communities and partners in collaborative projects that tackle real-world challenges in the Nottingham city region. Opening in January this year, City as Lab is bringing people together to create, co-produce and test new ideas, tools and technologies that put local challenges at the heart of activities.

The PARM has become a flagship digital asset for City as Lab and represents a highly engaging tool for telling stories of the city-region using spatial data, galvanising a host of new partnership opportunities.

Paul Grainge, Academic Director of City as Lab and Professor of Film and Television Studies in the Faculty of Arts, said: “When people see the PARM, they almost always go ‘wow’! It is fascinating and beautiful as a physical artefact but, more importantly, enables people to visualise and understand things about the city and region in new ways.

“The model has become a terrific stimulus to researchers, communities and partners, providing a unique platform for thinking through a wide variety of place-based issues – from economic investment, transport planning and green space to food networks, cultural heritage and even walk-times to Rock City!”

The construction of the PARM tool has strengthened the existing partnership with the GlS (geographic information system) team at Nottingham City Council, who are pioneering the move from 2D to 3D geospatial technology in local planning. Providing a ‘blueprint’ for other local authorities, the Council is now using the engaging display technology to drive transformation and to modernise the planning system to enable those involved in the planning process to shape the city’s overall vision.

Mick Dunn, Business Development Specialist at Nottingham City Council, said: “Being chosen for this award for our 3D work, among so many remarkable projects from both local and central government, is incredibly humbling. This award reflects the strong creativity, innovation, and collaborative spirit in Nottingham.

“The PropTech funding from the Department of Levelling Up and Housing has empowered Nottingham to develop a distinctive engagement environment as part of City as Lab, that includes a number of immersive 3D assets that will foster further collaboration and engagement, aiding our understanding of the city’s past, present, and future.”

Since February 2024, the PARM has been at the centre of workshops, demonstrations and engagement events with over 700 stakeholders. In each case organisations have asked to use the tool to visualise data to tell stories that impact the city and the region, in economic, environmental, social, health and policy terms.

The competition judges recognised the value of the project to urban planning, and the potential the framework showcases to push the use of city-scale 3D models into many areas of local government of the wider public sector.

A video for the project can be viewed here.

Posted on 31 May 2024

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Georgia Cowdrey