The Metaverse and City Planning: How Can It Be Used?
Cities and counties can explore the metaverse as a means to improve planning, operations and citizen services. They can develop a digital twin, a model of roads, structures and other resources that simulates the real world in minute detail.
A digital twin could aid in planning, for example, by modeling the impact of new traffic flows. It could drive resident-facing benefits as well.
“Maybe someone is new to the community and wants to rent a pavilion at a park. Well, the county has five parks and 15 pavilions. Right now, counties have static photos that you can click on,” says National Association of Counties CIO Rita Reynolds. “What if you could offer a 3D effect, or even put a wedding party in this pavilion to see if it will actually fit 300 people?”
Metaverse city planning could be used to drive economic development as well. “You could give businesses thinking of investing in the state a more immersive experience. Give them a tour of the state so that they might want to come to invest in real life,” says Amy Hille Glasscock, NASCIO program director of innovation and emerging issues.
How Can the Metaverse Benefit State and Local Governments?
Experts describe a number of possible reasons that state and local entities might want to invest in metaverse-related efforts.
“The metaverse is the internet on steroids,” says Todd Richmond, IEEE member and director of the Tech + Narrative Lab at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.
Supported by virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), the metaverse “will be more immersive than the internet, there will be a different kind of persistence in the experiences that people create. It will be more like an online gaming experience, an immersive first-person interaction,” he says.
All this offers a way “to make access to government better for more people and to make that access more equitable,” he says.
A government metaverse could drive deeper, more meaningful interactions. “The ability to truly interact with one another online has been promised for years, but the technology and vision to turn it into reality is finally here,” says Lena Geraghty, municipal practice director of sustainability and innovation at the National League of Cities.
“Cities already are deploying metaverse technologies such as augmented and mixed reality, the Internet of Things, digital twins and blockchain to help them with municipal functions ranging from tourism to resource management,” she says. “We will likely see increased exploration of the metaverse as a tool to improve and expand resident engagement and streamline digital government services.”
To take advantage of those opportunities, state and local entities will likely need buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders.
“The enterprise technology office would be involved, putting in place a roadmap and some architecture and governance,” Glasscock says. “It will hopefully be not just the CIO but also the security officer and the privacy officer, as well as the business relationship managers. There are a lot of stakeholders who should be involved when metaverse projects are being planned.”