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Use of Virtual Reality Techniques as a Support to Public Participation in Knowledge Societies: The Case Study of

Use of Virtual Reality Techniques as a Support to Public Participation in Knowledge Societies: The Case Study of
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   1 Use of Virtual Reality Techniques as a Support to Public Participation in Knowledge Societies: The Case Study of a Plaza Urban Development Project in Kyushu University – Japan Hatem Mahmoud Visiting Researcher – Dept. of Architecture and Urban Design  Faculty of Human Environment Studies – Kyushu University – Japan   Takafumi Arima    Associate Professor – Dept. of Architecture and Urban Design  Faculty of Human Environment Studies – Kyushu University – Japan Mohamed Ayman Daef     Associate Professor – Dept. of Architecture  Faculty of Engineering – University of Assiut – Egypt Hazem Hammad    Assistant Professor – Dep. of Architecture  Faculty of Engineering – University of Assiut – Egypt  E-mail  :, ABSTRACT  In the field of urban development, transmitting project ideas to non-professionals of users and administrators is crucial to making them fully aware of the development of ideas throughout the different stages of a given project. Users and administrators should have the opportunity to evaluate the project plans before its actual construction, and hence public participation becomes an important factor that supports the urban development process. However, planners and designers are often faced with difficulties in communicating their ideas to non-professional customers using conventional methods.  In recent years, there have been tremendous developments in information and communication technologies (ICTs). Accordingly, planners have started to use advanced communication tools in order to foster more active involvement and participation of their customers. Such practices are becoming more and more used in knowledge societies, where Virtual Reality (VR) techniques become one of those communication tools. Technologies of VR have rapidly grown and received great attention in recent years. By building VR models, with their increasingly dynamic interactive and experiential characteristics, one becomes able to simulate a real environment with various degrees of realism. These techniques provide us with a great ability to transmit ideas to non- professionals, who – thus – would be able to envisage the proposed project easily, to  postulate opinions, and also to propose modifications in order to reach a better decision-making.  In this paper, a case study is presented where virtual reality (VR) techniques as well as the communication technology via the internet have been used to facilitate and  support electronic participation (e-Participation). Furthermore, a framework is proposed  for supporting public participation in knowledge societies, and in consistency with the technological requirements of this present era.   2 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1. Relevant Studies Many studies have addressed the subject of supporting public  participation in urban development projects as an integral component of the success of urban plans. Many studies have also addressed the question of how to use information and communication technologies (ICTs) in supporting public participation, through the usage of tools such as virtual reality, geodesic information system and the internet. Among those studies, it is pertinent to refer to the following notable titles: 1.   Information systems for urban planning 1 . •   Study on participatory landscape planning supporting method using information technology 2 . 1.   Study on the development of an on-line collaboration system for public  participation 3 . •   Decision-making support VR system for citizen participation to urban design 4 . 1.2. Aims of the Study This study aims at developing a system that includes a prototype and a framework by using virtual reality techniques and communication technology in order to:   1-   Enhance the visualization of proposed ideas and help simulate urban development projects beforehand by using advanced tools. 2-   Support the e-Participation and the decision making process in such  projects within the contexts of knowledge societies. 3-   Meet the challenges of emerging knowledge societies through  preparation for greater and faster interactions with users and non- professionals, and ensure better knowledge management. The system effectiveness is verified by applying it on a case study in Kyushu University in Japan. A workshop with the decision makers at the university has also been conducted. 1.3. Methodology To achieve the aims of the study, this paper is divided into two parts. The first part is a theoretical one that contains a brief explanation of the concept of public participation in urban development projects; i.e. benefits, aims, and methods. Concepts of 'Knowledge Cities' and ‘Knowledge Societies’ are also explored in terms of their inter-relationship, and also the relationship between Knowledge Societies and the proposed e-Participation system is discussed. In the second part, a framework that supports e-   3 Participation in urban development projects is proposed, followed by an exhaustive explanation of the different steps towards building the e-Participation system adapted to the selected case study in Kyushu University in Japan. Last but not least, the framework is evaluated by conducting a meeting with the decision makers in Kyushu University, followed by a discussion that highlights pros and cons of our proposed system framework. Finally, a conclusion on the main findings of the study is presented. 1.4. Premises of the Study 1.4.1. Importance of Public Participation in Urban Development Changes in a real urban environment are often preceded by the creation of a coherent vision of what is planned. Therefore, the city representation in the citizens' minds plays an essential role in reshaping real space 5 . Thus, delivering ideas to non-professional users and administrators in the field of urban development is crucial to making them fully envisage the development of such ideas. As such, users and administrators are also given the opportunity to evaluate the plans of a given space before its actual construction. Thus, it becomes rather clear that public participation is a continuous process  of interaction between the institution (organization) responsible for decision-making, and the public whose interests are affected  by the consequences of the planned decision. A number of benefits for  public participation can be articulated as follows:  •   Sustainable Development:  It can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders. •   Conflict Management:  Although conflicts cannot be avoided, they are made explicit in the public participation debate. This makes conflict handling more efficient. •   Project Understanding and Reduction of Public Opposition:  The  public, being the user of a system, is the only party that can assess and evaluate the development stages. •   Economic Benefits:  If the public is involved in the full decision making process, their concerns may be met early in the planning  process when changes may be easier to be made, rather than late in the process when even small changes may cost extra effort, time and money. Thus, the general objectives of involving the public include the following:  •   Helping decision makers to acquire information about the public's  preferences.   4 •   Incorporating the knowledge of the public into the calculus of decision making. Thus it may be that the people in a local community come to know about issues such as traffic or crime problems. •   Identification of possible alternatives and/or options. •   Ensuring that affected groups are being involved at the very beginning of project design. •   Critical review of documentation. •   Improving efficiency and transparency of government operations and inducing organizational changes. The separation of these objectives is somewhat artificial, as the achievement of one will often depend upon the achievement of another. Thus, public participation is a very important factor to support the urban development process, and is necessary for increasing the legitimacy of  planning decisions and enhancing the political credibility of developers. 1.4.2. Knowledge Cities and Knowledge Societies We live in the era of digital revolution, which has been one of the most important outcomes of twentieth century technological achievement. The Digital Revolution has had a powerful impact on human social, civil and economic structures, and it has transformed the capitalist economic system from the manufacturing economy to the information economy. Power entrenched in the possession of knowledge and information has become a key element in human development structures in general. As a result of, there have been also changes that occurred to cities and regions turning them into knowledge societies or communities. For that reason, we may call the 21 st  century: "Century of Knowledge" or "Century of Knowledge Cities" 6 . There is no single definition of the term "Knowledge City". Rather, there are several complementary perspectives from which we may consider the concept as implying what follows: •   According to Francisco Javier Carrillo, the Knowledge City is a city that aims at a knowledge-based development, by encouraging the continuous creation, sharing, evaluation, renewal and update of knowledge 7 . •   According to Leif Edvinsson: a 'Knowledge City' is a city that is  purposefully designed to encourage the nurturing of knowledge 8 . The above mentioned definitions, and also others, are found to be similar in meaning. Many cities globally claim themselves as being already Knowledge Cities, while at the same time other cities have elaborated strategic and action plans to become one.   5  With the change of cities to Knowledge Cities, there have been also changes that happened in their societies, deriving what came to be known as "Knowledge Communities" or "Knowledge-based Societies". A Knowledge- based Society can be described as one where knowledge diffusion,  production and application become the organizing principle in all aspects of human activity: culture, society, the economy, politics, and private life 9 , also it can be described as a society characterized with the "shortening of distance and time" and "improved productivity and diversity" 10 . The rise of knowledge societies represents one of the most profound transformations that have occurred in recent decades 11 , with these changes, the decision makers "whether governmental or private actors" have to reform in order to transform the functioning of the public sector towards greater efficiency. From this perspective, concepts of e-Government, e-Participation, e-Democracy, etc. have emerged. For instance, e-Government allows information sharing and communication; moreover, it improves accessibility of public administration-related information to citizens and companies, improves efficiency and transparency of government operations and induces organizational changes (Fig. 1) 12 . From the above mentioned analysis, it can be postulated that: 1-   Advanced informational and technological infrastructures provided by Knowledge Cities offered new potentials, and made tremendous shifts in communities and in the concepts of the relationship between citizens and decision makers of governments and private sector. 2-   As a result of these changes, the concept of e-Government emerged, which aims to improve efficiency and to progress towards a  participatory government. 3-   Planners and designers will have to keep on developing systems consistent with the knowledge era, and also support the relationship  between e-Governments and citizens; i.e. "support e-participation". Fig. (1) Relationship between Government, Environment and the Citizen in a Knowledge-based Society 13  
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