Google AI Project Recreating Historical Streetscapes in 3D

When this caught my eye I got really interested. Google AI is launching a website titled rǝ which reconstructs cities from historical maps and photos. You might have seen the underlying tool last month but this productizes it a bit. What I find compelling about this effort is the output is a 3D city that you can navigate and review by going in back in time to see what a particular area looked like in the past.

Of course, Scottsdale, my town, is not worth attempting this on, but older cities that have seen a ton of change will give some great inside into how neighborhoods have changed over the past century.

Street level view of 3D-reconstructed Chelsea, Manhattan

Just take a look at the image above, it really does give the feel of New York back in the ’40s and earlier. People remember how a neighborhood looked, but recreating it in this method gives others key insights into how development has changed how certain areas of cities look and act.

This tool is probably more aimed at history professors and community activists, but as we grow cities into smarter, cleaner places to live, understanding the past is how we can hope to create a better future. I’d love to see these tools be incorporated into smart city planning efforts. The great part of all this is it is crowdsourced, open-sourced, and worth doing. I’m starting to take a deeper dive into the GitHub repository and look how the output of this project can help plan better cities.


Machine Learning Smart City Development from Sidewalk Labs

The last time most people heard from Sidewalk Labs was when Toronto didn’t go forward with their Smart City project. There are a ton of reasons why that didn’t happy, but moonshots are what they are and even if you don’t reach the moon, outcomes can be really good for society. Of course, I know not what Sidewalk Labs has been working on but I have to assume Delve exists because of the work they are doing to build smart cities.

Delve at its most simple description is where computers figure out the best design options for commercial or residential project development. there is much more going on here and that’s where the Machine Learning (ML) part comes in and what really catches my eye. I’ve done a tone of work with planning in my years of working with AECs and coming up with multiple design options is time-consuming and very difficult. But with Delve, this can happen quickly and repeatable in minutes.

A quick look at Delve

You get optimal design options based on ranked priority outcomes such as cost or view. Delve takes inputs such as zoning constraints (how high a building can be or what the setbacks are), gross floor area (commercial or residential), and then combines these with the priority outcomes. Then you get scored options that you can look further into and continue to make changes to the inputs.

The immediacy of this is what really sets this apart. When I was at Cityzenith years ago, we attempted to try and get this worked out but the ML tools were not developed enough yet. Clearly though, with Alphabet backing, Sidewalk Labs has created an amazing tool that will probably change how cities are being developed.

I am really excited to see how this works out. I don’t see an API yet so integration outside of Sidewalk labs does not seem to be a priority at this point but the outcome for scaleable planning like this needs to have an API. I’ll be paying attention but seeing ML being used for this type of development is logical, understandable, and workable. We should see great success. You can read more at the Sidewalk Labs blog.