Field notes on piecing together a data-driven decision-making platform

Visualising the future of our shared space makes urban planning more predictable and tangible. Hence the Visual-Spatial Planning approach is used to foster engagement and qualitative co-creation. Data-driven decision-making has an important role towards smart, agile urban development, a city able to quickly change, adopt and develop within an ever-changing environment which is one of Riga City’s strategic goals hand in hand with a city digital twin creation.

Visual tools, used by architects professionally, are seldom employed in spatial planning and participatory processes. Experts have assessed the representation means in spatial planning of Latvia to be more textual:

“…The experts in the planning field of Latvia acknowledge that spatial planning principles are not fully integrated into architectural and planning theories, practice and planning regulatory framework. Accordingly, …. visual representation in the context of spatial planning in Latvia is predominantly used and interpreted for developing and visually representing legally binding requirements of territorial development and much less for explaining of planning processes and results, as well as for illustrating of issues of strategic and spatial planning…experts also point out that currently employed visual communication forms are only partially understood by non-professionals in the planning. Until now, the planning field in Latvia has experienced a lack of comprehensive theoretical research on types of visual representation, functions, structure and methodical use.”

Palone, 2015

Open 3D GIS ESRI platform should justify the partnership and gear up agility to move forward with coordinated planning along the river. Simple and affordable tools on the ground (such as RoundMe, Google Lens, Google Earth etc.), along with high-end augmented reality and virtual reality projects can transform the existing partnership mosaic to a system, where all the pieces complement each other, increase flexibility and eliminate risks. 

The main concern of the approach to be inclusive is served by the availability to zoom in and out while staying in the same field as well as freedom for the users to shape unlimited spatial patterns necessary for a particular case or cooperation process on a focused, very local as well as regional level. Implementation of an open GIS platform will advance incentives started in the Augmented Urbans project:

A sample case of co-creation was carried out with Kekava partners using GoogleEarth and .kmz file exchange.  Thus the aim to build smart digital twins and clouds will keep alive the human dimension and communications on the ground. Visual interpretation of data-driven decision-making and activities becomes an augmented reality stream along the river.

In the Kekava Local Touch workshop, a first version of the Riverine GIS of the project in ArcGIS format was presented to be ready for merging with Riga Open GIS. Co-creation on administrative level takes place in all case areas, which, thus far, have been planned and managed separately.

The Floating Arc shape walkway created during Kekava case workshop

Local waterfront design elements emerged in the co-creation process via simple 3D design tools (SketchUp etc.) and were realised in modelling scale 1:1. Through co-creation, local identities were represented as 3D placemarks in Google maps, Roundme and similar affordable virtual means.

Some conclusions:

An experimental test of Virtual reality tools

In autumn 2020, ambitious plans were made to create development visions for the Daugava waterfront. The open sketch design architecture competition provided an excellent opportunity to investigate XR tools within the Augmented Urbans project area and high-end architecture space. The competition task demanded the submission of the virtual reality models of the proposed new structures that were placed in the 3D point cloud of the planning area prepared by the Riga Technical University (RTU) Architecture Faculty students.

To create the competition 3D photogrammetry models, a few thousand images were taken to triangulate and create the virtual space using DJI Phantom Pro 4, Drone Deploy and Bentley Context Capture software.

The main reason we provided the 3D and 2D data was to offer competition participants with high-quality spatial data and to enable the comparison of all entries in a 3D environment to remind of the surrounding context and to ensure the best concept would be selected for further development.

A total of fourteen competition entries were received. Embedding all entry 3D models in one platform to make comparing the proposals easy proved to be difficult. It was not possible to compile all the 3D models in one platform. Some of the problems stemmed from different file formats used by the participants. Everyone has a different toolset that they use, especially for a project on this scale. Many file formats were used  .(ifc, .ls10, .skp, .3ds, .obj + .mtl, .3dm, .dwg) and most of them were not native formats, but exported ones, which resulted in some geometry issues. In addition, the variance in the level of detail between different models did not make the task any easier. The challenge was dealing and managing a higher level of detail in 3D models.

Tips and recommendations for the future

Upcoming new technologies on the horizon are expected to be capable of more easily processing large datasets. Thus, it is only a matter of time before we need not worry about the size of the 3D models and the level of details. On the other hand, instead of attempting to integrate the building information system as it currently is, we should seek a solution to separate the ‘skin from the bones’. This means light visual models and services beyond the traditional CAD track.

Having selected attribute sets attached to volumetric models can substantially enhance the application and evaluation features for modelling in the urban resilience framework, thus providing agility to meet the overall and crucial aim of resilience—being ready for change.


  • Palone, I. Vizuālais attēlojums Latvijas telpiskajā plānošanā / Visual representation in spatial planning in Latvia.Promocijas darba kopsavilkums.– Rīga: RTU Izdevniecība, 2015.– 110 lpp.