1. Harnessing the power of the virtual world to see and transform the future

Harnessing the power of the virtual world to see and transform the future

There are sound reasons why city officials, urban planners and business leaders should be on a mission to secure a smart, resilient future for cities worldwide. But what’s the best way to achieve that?

The need for action is urgent and global. To attract the workforce of the future, deal with demographic change, and spark economic development, cities are on a quest to reinvigorate themselves. They are striving to improve the quality of life for their citizens by reimagining the city as a place of innovation – one that is environmentally friendly, has more dynamic neighborhoods for work and play, with an infrastructure that meets tomorrow’s needs.

To keep pace, the world needs to build 1,000 structures per day and invest $3.7 trillion annually in infrastructure. That’s the conclusion drawn by The McKinsey Global Institute Report ‘Bridging infrastructure gaps: has the world made progress?’

That development often includes new districts to accommodate new capacity, adjusting infrastructure to allow for greater population density, and adapting urban geography to meet the challenges of climate change. And it all must be achieved with less energy and waste.

Planning for consensus

What are the most effective ways of managing urban projects to meet these challenges?

The ideal is to help a community realize its aspirations while avoiding potentially negative events. To succeed, city officials and planners must address the highly specific technical, spatial and political challenges of urban development, while engaging with the community to help them understand the implications of domain-specific propositions.

Consensus is the key to success. Everybody with a vested interest must be included: authorities, businesses and citizens, who – however committed to the notion of creating a sustainable future for their urban environment – are cautious about making decisions until they have all the information presented to them in a form they can understand.

Coping with big data

Stakeholder inclusion is not the only challenge facing urban planning. The exponential growth of data across a broad complex of networks, systems and platforms is making the job increasingly complex.

Clearly, what every planner requires is a virtual world to see what the future could be and to show others what it would look like. Achieving this requires the creation of a ‘digital twin’ by bringing together diverse sets of data onto one accessible platform: a single source of truth that creates a common model which can simulate different aspects of a city and test a range of planning scenarios. Namely Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE® platform.

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Listicle- CCT City mobile
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Listicle- CCT City desktop

What has been lacking in smart city approaches is the intelligence necessary to capture the city and its processes as a whole and to integrate this knowledge into a holistic, real-time virtual model that dynamically updates. This holistic approach is a key aspect of Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE platform, as is the high fidelity data model of the city, which enables real-time collaboration and communication.


Think of a city with many players working together: urban planners, urban designers, engineers, architects, landscape architects, developers… Then imagine building an extension of that city. One that does not consume more energy than it creates, has a minimum carbon footprint, is hyper-dense and yet offers great life-work experiences to all its inhabitants. Different collaborators involved in the planning of this city interactively explore various design scenarios – running analytics and simulations to find the one with the maximum spatial quality and functional operability.

The data model keeps track of each version, checks for incongruences as different people optimize the design, and warns if a version does not comply with regulations. When all parties agree on a design, it is developed, analyzed, simulated and optimized in the virtual model before it becomes a reality. Then, once built, the dynamic model can serve to manage the city. The entire urban lifecycle can be captured in this way.

Bringing the benefits to life

Rennes Métropole chose the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to implement ‘Virtual Rennes'. The systemic approach of this solution encompasses the complex demands of urban planning by involving all stakeholders. It intuitively facilitates data-sharing to simulate, plan and manage the city – collaboratively developing effective public policies. You can watch the video about ‘Virtual Rennes’ here

Virtual Rennes enables all stakeholders to work together, remotely share data, simulate evolutions of the city and better observe urban phenomena. The ultimate goal for Rennes Métropole is to create a 3DEXPERIENCE® twin of the city: an intelligent digital model based on geometric and topographical elements, as well as demographic, mobility and health data. This will serve as the foundation that all stakeholders can access to simulate, plan and manage the city in a transversal and collaborative way.

Rennes is following in the pioneering footsteps of Singapore, which also created its own ‘3DEXPERIENCE twin’. Watch the video below. 

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Both are benefiting from the robust ‘what if’ planning that virtual and augmented reality enables: the opportunity to see multiple potential futures, test their consequences and implications, and work together to build the best possible future. This ability to capture, unify and intelligently interrogate eclectic data from various stakeholders strengthens the power to foresee interactions: The Holy Grail of planning.

That’s why it’s so important to move away from siloed thinking. Smart city projects often focus on a single aspect, like improving traffic flow on a busy road or making more efficient responses to emergency calls. This divided way of working impedes success because it does not recognize how the complex interaction of factors that form urban environments can influence one another, unintentionally and suddenly, both positively and negatively. For example, improved traffic flow can enhance citizen safety by enabling emergency services to be onsite faster. Those who fail to foresee such interactions could miss valuable opportunities.

Harnessing the power of digital transformation

“Visualizing Smart Cities for a Resilient Future”  by global analyst IDC, eloquently explains why digital twins are central to digital transformation. The capability to plan and test in a simulated virtual world on a collaborative digital platform is a game-changer for city planning. The future can be modeled before deployment in the real one – and what was deployed can be continuously learned from and improved thanks to a real-to-virtual-virtual-to-real feedback loop.

Simulation lays a path between concept and reality. It enables urban planners to create something that is immediately understandable and accessible to laypeople with no planning or architectural experience. They can see exactly what is being proposed. Armed with that understanding, they can be meaningfully included in judging multiple visions, thereby building essential consensus. 

With such a collaborative approach to urban transformation, complexity and diversity can be better understood, constructed, managed and developed. An integrated virtual environment provides a holistic and operational vision of complex systems, including mobility, energy and resource management, built environment and citizen services. And with this vision, the ability to understand the past and make informed decisions that will have a long-term impact on the future quality of life is vastly improved.