Friday, January 24, 2014

Using the Paint to Vision Tool

When a user creates a new vision, they have the option to start with the landcover of Manhattan (2010), Mannahatta (1609), or another user's vision. Starting with a combination of ecosystems instead of a blank slate can save a lot of time, as well as offer inspiration for further changes to your vision.

But what if you want to copy portions of other visions after you start editing? What if you want to revert to the landcover that you started out with?

The Paint to Vision tool allows you to paint overlapping ecosystems from another vision into your own. You can choose to paint to Mannahatta, Manhattan, or another user's vision, as long as it overlaps with your own. This makes it easy to easily copy complex ecosystem combinations without painting with individual ecosystems. Changing the brush size makes painting to other landcovers even easier.

An example of a vision based on the Mannahatta (1609) landcover.

In this picture you can see the same vision, except the Paint to Vision tool has been used to substitute streams and ponds with the contemporary landcover.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ecosystem tools

Now let's turn our attention to the Ecosystem tools. allows you to "paint" different ecosystems onto your vision by simply clicking and dragging your mouse across the screen. Users can change ecosystems within a block to their heart's content- there is nothing preventing a user from razing all the buildings in a block and restoring its historical ecology, or putting in 100-story skyscrapers in their place. Of course, you could also choose to implement less-radical, more pragmatic changes as well, like adding a green roof to your building. Both kinds of interventions are encouraged- who is to say how the city's environment will change within the next decade (or 400 years)?

With that in mind, let's take a look at the different ecosystems that are available to the user. Ecosystems are broken down into different categories: Built (including 19 different building types); Natural (which includes 18 natural ecosystems that populated historic Mannahatta); Transportation (streets, rail lines, parking lots, etc.); Other (e.g. utilities, landfills, water treatment plants); and Modifiers (which alter other ecosystem types). There are a lot of options, but each ecosystem is explained in detail on the site with an image, a text description, and a list of parameter values that are used to calculate that ecosystem's environmental performance. A full list of ecosystems can be found at the end of this post.

Users can change what brush size they paint with- either one cell (10m2) at a time up to almost a quarter of a block! Different brush sizes are helpful for implementing different kinds of changes- whether pragmatic or radical- with ease.

An example of the smallest possible brush size- one 10 m2 pixel...

... and an example of the largest brush size, 7,200 m2 or about a quarter of a city block! 

Choosing Model Scenarios offers users the ability to alter the ecosystems in their vision extent- but beyond that, it also allows users to change the climate and lifestyle choices of people within their area of interest.

Possible climate scenarios include the past climate of 1609, the present climate, and three future climate projections for 2020, 2050, and 2080. Changing between these climate scenarios allows users another way to explore how the ecosystems in their vision interact with environmental factors. Users can also select different precipitation events for their vision (ranging from a clear day to a severe storm) to see how different amounts of precipitation affect an area's environmental performance.

The table view showing a side-by-side comparison of each climate scenario and the parameter values associated with each one.

Changing the climate scenario also changes the 100-year flood line, shown above as the light blue line. This line depicts how high floodwaters would rise in a 100-year storm given the climate scenario I have selected. 

Similarly, users can change the lifestyle of people living in their vision extent. Lifestyle determines transportation and fuel type preferences, as well as residential density, waste production, and a whole slew of other factors. When creating a vision, it is important to remember that how people interact with their environment is just as important in determining environmental performance as what that environment is composed of. Possible lifestyle types include average New Yorker, average American, average Earthling, Eco-hipster, and Lenape person. A complete breakdown of the environmental factors that vary by lifestyle can be found by clicking on the "i" icon next to lifestyle in the Lifestyle/Climate Selectors menu.

As with climate scenarios, you can compare different lifestyles- and the effects that each lifestyle has on the environment- in a table view.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Some updates, and how to define a Vision Extent

First off, I'd like to share some updates with you all, as we've been very busy lately! will officially launch on January 28th, just under a week from now. Over the past few months, we have continued to elicit feedback from small group sessions, and have incorporated a lot of the feedback we've received into the site. I'll go over these features throughout the coming week. In the mean time, enjoy the eye candy and read more below about defining a vision extent. allows you to model the effects that different ecosystems, climates, and lifestyles have on the environmental performance of an area of your choosing. This area, or "vision extent," can be as large as all of Manhattan island, or as small as a single block. The block is an ideal unit of measurement in present-day Manhattan, and offers an interesting context for users to compare the present built environment with the ecological past.

A user can define their vision extent two ways: The first is by using the Vision Extent Selector tool to highlight and identify blocks to use in their visions. 

A user's current vision extent is outlined in orange. Blocks that can be added to a vision extent are highlighted in orange when a cursor passes over it.

The second way to define a vision extent is by copying and editing an existing vision. You can browse public visions using the carousel at the bottom of the page, or search for visions based on a set of criteria. Once you find one that you like, you can choose to copy and edit it. This method is helpful if you want to create a large vision- you can search for and start with neighborhoods, zip codes, school districts, and community districts along with individual blocks. 

Choosing an appropriate vision extent is important- it is the area over which you'll be modelling changes in ecosystems, climate, lifestyle consumption patterns, and overall environmental performance. Don't worry- you can add or subtract from your vision extent at any time using the Vision Extent Selector tool in the right tool palette.

Check back soon for more updates, and remember, the site goes live on January 28th!