Guest Post: A Future We Can See


Guest Post by Richard Simpson, a former Auckland Councillor and former Chair of the Auckland Transport Authority. He chairs the Digital Cities working group of the International Society for Digital Earth and works at 3D visualisation company Nextspace 

While our mayor campaigns for an underground rail link, central government tell us we need to consider above-ground alternatives. Engineers, government, town planners, ratepayers: they’ve all got something to say.

How to keep track of it all?

When I was an Auckland City councillor, officials presented us with paper blueprints and (literally) stacks of consultant reports. These were expected to serve as an informative basis for our decision-making. It is little wonder that reaching consensus among councillors and the community was challenging.

We no longer have to be compromised by these old school, 2D conventions. The technology to view vast 3D models of cities is already available, and possible on everyday computers and handheld devices.

We can mirror the real world in all its dimensions.  Evidence-driven images projecting topical Auckland transport landscapes can be presented to decision makers.


These visuals are more than just pretty pictures. More than just architects’ or artists’ impressions.

If designed smartly, they can be inextricably linked to all the best ideas and information that council and community could provide, and made openly available like a 3D Wikipedia.

Presented visually and overlaid on a unified 3D model of the Auckland region, this would make civic planning more relevant to communities and serve as a common language for progression.

It would also improve decision makers’ clarity around the challenges, opportunities and solutions for transport, and allow for transparency of process.

Concerns around costs, economic benefits, environmental impacts, heritage preservation, and how these new projects will boost the city’s liveability can all be mapped.

This image of a 10-lane Eastern highway through Orakei basin caused outrage. The plan was stopped.

With this type of transport visualisation tool, we could view a digital ecology of geospatial maps, consents, development plans, transport routes, historical records and photographs, environmental measures, public memory, physical infrastructure and zoning.

Some examples:

      • New transport routes and infrastructure projects, so often viewed in isolation, can be judged by all stakeholders on their wider economic, social and environmental benefits.
      • Gradient options for a railway harbour crossing could be seen and compared, and the integration of this crossing with proposed plans for Wynyard Quarter can be meaningfully discussed.
      • The future of Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) for the Ports of  Auckland could be simulated and considered.

Social networking on the internet, crowd sourcing, cheap remote sensors, GPS tracking of assets, more robust consultation and smarter services have made it easier to gather local information.

Most of this information is about ‘place’, and so a layered 3D representation of the region is a logical way to make sense of it.  It’s significantly easier to digest and navigate through than a stack of consultants’ reports.

And there are potential economic benefits. An evidence-based visual transport plan could serve as a digital comments from which content-rich applications for city services and community engagement could be developed, creating employment and export opportunities across a range of sectors from creative industries to utilities.

It can help us plan the city we want for future generations.





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  2. Future Of Lines Not Hopeful
  3. Integrated Ticketing: What It Takes To Get Slowly Past The Post
  4. We Need A Rail Service, Not Future Monuments To City Officials
  5. Back To the Future




  1. Matt L says:

    Use of 3D designs should be a must for any medium to large project as they can really help to show what is going on. It also doesn’t have to cost heaps as there are free tools out there like Google SketchUp.

    As for the other project you are pushing and try to make a subtle reference to here, no one wants your damn bridge and it has already been ruled out as it failed at first hurdle because it involves removing the existing bridge therefore defeating the purpose of creating an “additional crossing”

  2. Scott says:

    I hope that is an arbitrary bridge render, not one showing a bridge cutting through the largest marina in the southern hemisphere at relatively low level.

    On a more positive note, yes 3D modeling is awesome. Advances in 3D printing technology are another area to keep an eye on. After my time at uni I cannot imagine developing a product without using a array of computational tools such as CAD (3D), FEA and CFD.

  3. Giel says:

    I actually think that is a beautiful looking bridge! Much nicer than the coat hanger / ramp we currently have. Especially like the train rushing by above quite futuristic and international metro looking!

    I guess beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder……

  4. Max says:


    I too think the Anzac bridge proposal is quite beautiful, and nicer than the AHB. That doesn’t mean it is the right thing to build, when one considers the downsides!

    That is what Matt L (being a bit frustrated in his response, I guess) and Scott were trying to say, as far as I can see.

  5. Matt L says:

    Max – Yes you are correct guessing what I think. I am definitely no fan of the current bridge but that doesn’t mean I want to knock it down. There are a few reasons why I am quite against the ANZAC bridge proposal.
    1. Regardless of how well it is engineered, we would still be left with the same number of crossings we have now so there is less resilience.
    2. A bridge through this area could really impact either Westhaven Mariana and/or the Wynyard development.
    3. They say that rail could be added but they have only ever referred to light rail, all talk at this stage is for a heavy rail crossing so that it could work in with our existing network.
    4. One of the advantages of the NZTA bridge or tunnel approach is that through traffic could go via the new crossing while CBD traffic would go via the existing bridge making it effectively a huge off ramp
    5. One of the biggest claims is that land along St Marys bay could be sold off for development to help pay for the thing. What that doesn’t take into account is that the only way we would get significant money for the site is if intensive development like apartments were allowed. That is something the residents of the area would likely fight very hard against as many have paid millions for the views they currently have.

    Geil - the use of a train is pretty clearly put in the image as a form of marketing, their earlier proposals had the trains hidden away in the centre of the structure.

  6. Giel says:

    Guys - I think the tunnel is best too - just saying the bridge looked good that was all - not that I “fall for that” of course.

    Understand all your points and mostly agree - a pity our current bridge is so poor - no walkway or cycle way - a new bridge would acheive that but we can’t probably have it both ways - a new bridge and a tunnel and yes heavy rail would be a challenge on a bridge getting it up to the right grade level especially.


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