At FOSS4G in Nottingham I was looking forward to hearing Peter Smart and Rob Hawkes talk about their ViziCities project which is intended to bring real world cities to life using open, big-data and open source technologies including WebGL (3D), Web Audio API, GeoJSON, Web Workers (HTML5 multi-threading), and PostGIS. But they weren't able to make it. Fortunately their web site and blog contain a lot of information about the development of the Vizicities project.
Peter and Rob describe Vizicities as an interactive 3D city vizualisation platform that is beautiful, fun and engaging, the intersection of data, art and play. It has been described as SimCity with real data. And the SimCity relationship is more than skin deep. The authors themselves say that "It's undeniably SimCity-esque though will encompass many aspects beyond that comparison; ranging from data visualisation, to game design, art, and general awesomeness." And it appears that Richard Shemaka, the principle engineer at Maxis for data layers in SimCity is a fan of the project.
The data is from free data sources for London and the UK like Data.gov.uk, the London Datastore, Ordnance Survey OpenData, OpenStreetMap, the Office for National Statistics, and Police.uk for most of what was needed (census data, crime, geographic features). Finding accurate building outline and height data is a problem in the UK. They've had to make do with simple building outlines from Ordnance Survey's VectorMap dataset. Unfortuantely this does not include height data for the buildings so they've had to kludge this.
3D visualization including thematic and heat maps
They first focussed on visualizing buildings, natural features, and roads in 3D. A secondary focus of the project is the visualization of thematic data such as demographics. This includes heat maps.
London Underground in 3D and real-time
One of the objectives from the beginning was to visualize public transport in London in real-time and 3D. They started with the London Underground network in 3D with the aim to place real-time trains moving along 3D tracks. You can see a video of the result. Remarkable.
Even more remarkably this has all been developed since February which shows the power of modern open source web development technologies.