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January 03, 2017

Augmented Reality in Real Life: Evaluating the Potential of New Digital Tools for Use in Municipal Planning Practice

Augmented Reality in Real Life: Evaluating the Potential of New Digital Tools for Use in Municipal Planning Practice
Pokémon GO - a phenomenon that swept the world this past summer! Cities around the globe experienced an influx of citizens into their public spaces as everyone tried to ‘catch-em-all.’ Crazed Pokémon trainers wandered the city swiping their phones and battling to win gyms, ultimately searching for the coveted Pikachu.

Over the last three months Team PokéPlan also caught the PokéFever. However, as a group of graduate students in Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, we sought to explore a more serious side of the game. Pokémon GO was one of the first mass-produced and mass-used applications of augmented reality. What really propelled our thinking was its application to urban planning practice.  What is the future potential of augmented reality technology? How can planners utilize it to create more meaningful civic engagement and public consultation?

Pokémon GO Findings

What we found was that 90% of people living in Toronto have access to game elements and lived within a five-minute walk of a PokéStop or Gym. This access, however, varies across the city in terms of density with the best gameplay experience in the downtown core and most activity likely occurring along major corridors like Queen Street and in mixed use zones. For planners who are seeking to use an application like Pokémon GO for public consultation and engagement, these types of findings are essential in helping to figure out which populations are being reached and which are excluded.

Access to PokéStops and Gyms (within 5-Minute Walk or 400m Radius Buffer) by Population


Mapping Pokémon GO also hints at the ways in which gamers used public realm throughout the city. The trails and clusters of PokéStop and PokéGyms scattered across Toronto serve as desire paths into areas of the public realm that were appropriated for game play.

Augmented Reality and Planning
Current public consultation and engagement practices are typically predicated on in-person interaction, however, consultation and engagement are increasingly happening online and through other platforms. As we saw from our investigation of Pokémon GO, this technology can draw people to new spaces and change the way they move around the city. Harnessing this technology could bring new opportunities for reaching different demographics in the places where they live, work, and play.
For example, we looked at the potential of using augmented reality technology to enhance development proposal signs through geo-location and visualization. Imagine walking down a street and receiving a notification on your smartphone regarding a nearby proposal. By clicking on it, you are guided to the location where you are shown a visualization of the project conveniently through your phone. This would provide more meaningful information about the size and scale of the project, allowing people to see the full extent of proposal in human scale and in context, while reviewing specific details right then and there.

Augmented reality can also be used as a platform for public education and collaboration between community groups to enhance heritage planning and the public realm. This could potentially transform the whole city into a new type of living museum without borders, inspiring people to feel greater ownership over the city and its heritage.

Evaluating Technology for Planning

In order for planners to effectively use emerging technology, it is necessary to understand how they are created, implemented, and used. To aid in doing so, we have created an evaluative framework that explores the different areas that planners must keep in mind when evaluating new technology (see the image below). This assessment allows planners to determine the usefulness of a technology in their daily planning practice. Although the Pokémon craze has since died down, it provided us with a unique opportunity to discover the potential of emerging technologies. We’re looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for cities and for urban planners. 


The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Team PokéPlan

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