3D City models have been part of architectural design processes and planning for some time now. It would be difficult to imagine how architecture and construction could operate in a global city like London, with its various planning restrictions, without any 3D modelling data. As cities like Hong Kong, Berlin and Singapore take the lead on the availability and quality of their 3D city models, it would be a good time to evaluate and discuss how these initiatives work and whether this approach of a city authority owning and providing the 3D model is the right way of working going forward.
Berlin and Hong Kong local authorities created their own 3D city models, available as downloadable files on their planning websites. This seemingly most efficient approach (build a model once by the city, make use free to all) has many drawbacks. First of all, cost. Creation and management of the dataset, especially highly accurate and detailed one, costs money. It could be argued that these costs should be beared by real-estate developers, not city councils. Second, usability. Both Berlin and Hong Kong created their 3D Models to standards not adopted by the industry in the UK as it does not meet industry needs. These models would be of very limited use to, for example, Rights to Light studies, routinely undertaken in the UK, as these 3D Models are either not accurate enough or only include generalised terrain. And lastly, this business model often leads to limited competition as with free 3D model on the market the rest of the market is not big enough to support multiple data providers.