The New Era of Planning Simulations

The continued improvement of digital technology should benefit evidence-based policy and decision-making. Welcome to a new era of planning simulations.

September 1, 2016, 8:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Lilyana Vynogradova / Shutterstock

Laura Adler surveys the world of data-driven simulations in the field of planning. Simulations have been a part of planning practice for decades, as Adler notes, but recent improvements in data collection and computing power empower planners in new and constantly evolving ways.

Adler surveys the latest in technology, grouping the state of the art in simulation into two groups:

Comprehensive Models

  • UrbanSim, founded by University of California, Berkeley Professor Paul Waddell, "allows users to run simulations, draw from a library of open data, and produce visualizations."
  • MIT's Changing Places initiative has developed CityScope, "an urban simulation tool that integrates physical representation—using Legos—with projections and visualization tools."
  • Participatory Chinatown, from Emerson College, "used a multiplayer game format to engage citizens in a number of simulated neighborhood activities inside a digital recreation of Boston’s Chinatown."

Specific Systems

The survey includes more examples of each variety. Also included in the article are simple descriptions of the benefits of simulation, including the ability to anticipate and mitigate unintended consequences and to bridge gaps of representation in the planning process.

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