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Building tomorrow

Betaville is a city guide to a future that is just around the corner. The corner you built.

Before launching an urban project, architects and project planners always unveil one of those models where the trees are always lovely and green, happy families with pretty little dogs walk in the surrounding park, and the building itself is in perfect harmony with nature and society. It’s too good to be true – and it usually is. And you know why? Because in most cases, buildings and entire cities are designed and built outside a context of fun.

Now what if we had to build the cities of the future using games?

This is the aim of Betaville, a new programme that allows users to influence and shape urban design. “The future of a street corner, a blank wall, a vacant lot, or an entire city can now be tinkered with on an ongoing basis at negligible cost by the full spectrum of subject matter experts: the people who know what it’s like to live there now, the people who know how to make new things happen, and people with great ideas to share,” reads the Betaville website.

Betaville looks like The Sims meets Google Earth. Users can walk around or fly over the true-to-life 3-D models of buildings and streets as well as build new structures like parks, roads and bridges. Other users can also add comments or propose changes.

Apart from the design aspect, users can also see the energy usage of some of the buildings and whether there is the possibility of heating these buildings using alternative fuels.

“It’s not only a tool for urban design, but urban engagement,” Norman Jacknis, director of Cisco IBSB Public Sector, said during the launch of Betaville.

And it is, because Betaville can become a hub where urban planners, designers, architects and community members come together to shape their city.

This open-source multiplayer environment can be used by everyone for free, from future dwellers to professional design firms and schools. Currently, Betaville features a true-to-life model of New York City which users can alter at will.

To date, proposals include a dynamic tower where the external walls can support vegetation, a pier extension of Battery Park, and underwater car parks.

Betaville was created by a team at the Polytechnic Institute of New York in partnership with the University of Applied Sciences in Germany.

It has already been endorsed by important institutions such as the Municipal Art Society of New York, The New York Hall of Science, Toronto’s Centre for Landscape Research and the Architecture Faculty of Istanbul Technical University.

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