When I first heard about cityLAB, Dana Cuff and Robert Sherman's urban futures research program at UCLA, it took me almost a year until I actually went to their website and looked at the work, today. Not knowing the work of either person, I was expecting some well researched but MOR urban solutions-- streetscape improvement, transportation solutions, you know the drill.
What I found was so much more. Two of their projects in particular, LA2016 and PropX: lessons learned, are a delirious combination of projective urbanism and dystopian realism that manages not to flinch away from the big decisions while refusing to mediate between poles. It is sustainable without being green, specific without being perscriptive and comprehensive without being totalitarian. The work frequently toes the line between solution and dystopia, and dances around the difficult questions by posing its own, better ones. It may sound from this description that I love their work. A more accurate description is that I am terrified by it.
Inverted pyramid megastructures above the freeways, inhabitable beach mutations, and postapocalyptic tract housing inhabited by the last existing motorheads-- sometimes it's more exciting than realistic, but we have plenty of realistic urbanisms, thank you. So, all I have to say, is take a look at it, and laugh, promote, or recoil in horror. I think they're looking for all three of those reactions.
On the other end of the spectrum, also strangely compelling for entirely different reasons, is the UCLA Urban Simulation Team. This group is dedicated to making a rediculously detailed 3d model of, well, all of Los Angleles. "The model is accurate enough for the graffiti on the walls and signs in the windows to be legible."
These models, built on top of the 3d GIS surveys, are intended for use by urban planners, emergency response teams, transportation planners, and, in a slightly more sinister fashion, security consultants. More interestingly, they claim that "this system is being extended to support a client server capability which will allow the seamless interactive navigation of the entire Virtual Los Angeles Model... while simultaneously supporting hundreds of remote interactive users."
So what do we have here? An accurate, detailed, comprehensive 3d model of one of the largest cities in the world, that can be used simultaneously by many people in real-time. I think sometimes the future creeps up on us because the websites look boring. I'll leave it up to you to imagine what you most want done with this waiting terabyte of virtual city, but personally I'm starting my Godzilla model tomorrow.