Improvements in understanding of zoning schemes and land use regulations using first person three-dimensional presentations

Problem statement and Context

In 2018 a new legal instrument will be introduced in the Netherlands, by the name ‘Omgevingswet’, that combines the current zoning and land use regulations on the basis of spatial location. In an ideal scenario citizens are able to summon information about rules concerning their property in one centralized environment, instead of contacting several authorities.

According to its Dutch logan: “eenvoudig beter: minder regels, meer verantwoordelijkheid bij burgers, met behoud van beschermingsniveau en met voordeel voor iedereen”, it is one of the governments’ top priorities to involve and inform ordinary citizens, in an earlier stage of the process, in a better way about the overall land-use regulations and zoning plans (Steenbekkers, Houwelingen, and Putters 2016). However these intentions are being called into question by the Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (SCP), an interdepartmental research office that carries out solicited and unsolicited independent research. According their research report, ‘Niet buiten de burger rekenen!’, the Omgevingswet will make great demands in the role and participation of civilians in future planning, but up until now still lacks a proper reflection on the terms on which this participation should take place. Therefore a better reflection is needed on the overall quality of the communication and ways in which potential participation between the government and civilians regarding the Omgevingswet should take place (Steenbekkers et al. 2016).

Currently it is possible for civilians to participate in- and obtain information about the Omgevingswet regarding developments about their own place and surrounding neighborhood via online geo-portals, such as:,,

However these decision support tools for urban development all have, according to Isaacs (2011) certain important limitations in common:
– They are dominated by the perceptions of the “expert” decision makers (e.g. planners, architects, and design engineers) and focus mainly on the technical design of a project;
– Are typically two-dimensional, when in reality the problems they are required to address are three-dimensional (volumetric) and four-dimensional (temporal);
– Lack an effective means of communication to a range of stakeholders, including the general public;
– Do not adequately consider the complex and interconnected domains (environmental, economic, social) that affects the sustainability of our urban areas; and
– Have limited predictive capacity (Isaacs et al. 2011).

Extremely remarkable since the past couple of decades the development of the quality of animated visualizations has not stood still. Thanks to the movie-, television-, and gaming industry, representations via 3D graphics matured rapidly. Within the gaming industry these developments has led to new possibilities and insights in how to involve the person in a more immersive way into the game, such as the introduction of a first person view in the game Wolvenstein 3D. It should be obvious that these technologies are going to be applied in the current used Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and in specific in case of environmental planning in order to engage the public in a better way (Stoter 2015). Therefore, it is highly remarkable that current information portals still make use of a two-dimensional top-down perspective to involve citizens in plans (figure 1, 2 and 3), while the personal perspective should be a more obvious choice. Especially in case of the Omgevingswet, since the new regulations are going to contain and combine datasets that are 3D in its nature. Such as building height, noise pollution, cutting trees, and the ability for buildings and space to have multiple functions.

Figure 1: Layout of

Figure 2: Layout of

Figure 3: Layout of prototype omgevingsplan

Within the world of 3D, one of the most recent developments is the uprising of first person virtual and augmented reality. It makes it able to simulate the user’s point of view even more realistic. Or as Whyte (2002) describes in case of urban planning: “Urban areas that are great are not those that are just well zoned with the right amenities: also the streets of great cities are interesting places to be. A bird’s-eye view is blind to this real beauty. By constraining the user to a viewpoint outside the model, the quality of streets as places to be are ignored. Yet in virtual and augmented reality it is possible to take a range of viewpoints within the model, showing realistic views of the streets that make up cities and urban areas. By focusing attention on the streets rather than on the view from above, virtual reality may allow greater participation and better decision making in the planning process” (Whyte 2002, p106).

Keeping in mind the earlier mentioned doubts about the participation of civilians in the planning process, this research is going to take a closer look at the impact of using a several viewing perspectives on the usability and user experience of the Omgevingswet. The concept of user experience involves a system’s functionality, information portrayal, performance, interactive behavior, and the support of user’s physical and psychological state related to their experiences, attitudes, skills, personality and usage context (Resch and Zimmer 2013).

With respect to the three-dimenional components, in recent years literature already paid more attention to this subject. For example in the case of cadastral and zonal planning (Jeong et al. 2012; Stoter et al. 2011) on infrastructure (Zlatanova et al. 2013) and on its technical implementation (Uden and Zipf 2013). Most research focused on the technical possibilities of 3D. Less attention is paid to the functional use, and especially in the case of non-experienced GIS users.

The conclusive problem statement for this research states that the current top down two-dimensional design on zoning schemes and land use regulations do not fit the current user interest and the spatial extent of regulations.

Therefore this research tries to find an answer on the question; What are potential improvements in the citizens understanding of zoning schemes and land use regulations by making use of a first person three-dimensional presentation?

Research objective

The two-dimensional design of the current used geo-portals giving information about zoning schemes and land use regulations do not fit to both the new presented data, as well as the interests of the potential end users. Key solution in creating an understandable environment regarding the ‘Omgevingswet’ lies in finding an appropriate way of adapting elements of current 3-dimensional possibilities that are easily understandable for citizens. Therefore the objective of this research will be to investigate potential improvements in the citizens understanding of zoning schemes and land use regulations by making use of a first person three-dimensional presentation.

In reaching this objective, the following questions has to be answered:
1. Why are the current geo-portals not suitable in informing citizens about the upcoming Omgevingswet? And how could a first person three-dimensional view overcome these problems?
2. What are the possibilities of a first person interface in enhancing the usability of these platforms regarding the Omgevingswet? And how should this be designed and prototyped?
3. What are ways to measure and test the difference in usability between current portals and a first person prototype?
4. How do the results of usability tests relate to each other?

Research limitations

This research is about discovering the appropriate functionalities and design of a first person three-dimensional environment in order to involve normal civilians in the ‘Omgevingswet’ in a better way. The study will be based on evaluating the usability of a prototyped three-dimensional environment for type casted civilians compared to the currently used two-dimensional top-down view predecessors.

Therefore it will not be about the functionality of 3-dimensional possibilities for GIS in general. Nor will it be about the effectiveness and practicability of the current design of the ‘Omgevingswet’ regulations. But it will also not be solely about the opportunities of virtual reality itself. Virtual reality will be used as a tool to compare the impact of a first person view on the compared to a birds-eye view on environmental plans.

While current developments make it already possible to use advanced three-dimensional animation program’s, such as Maya, to create environments. Or even augmented reality applications. But due to the scale of this research, only the basic possibilities of virtual reality will be touched upon as a tool to represent the first person view. Since it is not about the quality and detail of what is represented, but rather about the chosen perspective, and its influence on the understandability of the represented information.

Literature Review

This chapter includes a literature review of the most important subjects that are going to be touched upon in during this research. In general this chapter it will pay attention to the evolution visualizations and the presentation of geographical data has underwent in the past decades. Beginning with its evolution from a predominately two-dimensional plan-orientated view to a three-dimension realistic world perspective. Followed up with an overview of the future opportunities regarding virtual reality. The chapter will eventually finish with an overall reflection about the possibilities of virtual reality regarding the Omgevingswet.

1. Current way of planning
Most of the twentieth-century cities were planned and managed in a centralized way, with top-down experts constructing zoning and development control practices to determine the location of different activities, such as housing and industry. This approach changed over time, and became a bit inappropriate since the uprising of the modern network society. The improvement of communication and transportation has led to the development of a flexible network structure between cities and other major centers that are not necessarily each other’s nearest neighbors (Whyte 2002). Instead of controlling and determining the use of space, planners aim to provide infrastructures that support open and flexible activity patterns. (Sikiaridi and Vogelaar 2000; Whyte 2002). Part of the flexible planning is the aim for an increased involvement of residents into the planning process.

Currently geographic information systems and virtual reality are being used to channel the input of residents into the planning process. Techniques are developed in case of communities to consider different development options.

The use of virtual reality is one of many methods, alongside traditional animations, top-down drawings and photo’s, to stimulate people to interact with planning options. But what is virtual reality, and why should it make sense to use of virtual reality to increase the residents’ participation? Therefore it is useful to take a closer look at the transformation spatial data representation underwent in the last decades.
2. From 2D to 3D in GIS
According to Whyte (2002) the nature of the map has underwent an enormous process of change through the years. Geographic information systems are increasingly transforming the way in which information about our environment is stored, managed and accessed. (Whyte 2002 p100). Through the years many types of representations are used to simulate geographical data, ranging from 2-dimensional to 3-dimensional possibilities. Including paper plans, wooden Marquette’s, animations, photo’s and computer-based models. The different representations all have their own strengths and weaknesses compared to each other. For example, using a map could be preferable instead of using a satellite based street view in planning the best route between two points, while a three dimensional approach is more appropriate to evaluate the visual effects of the construction of a building on its environment (Whyte 2002). The most likable perspective is highly dependable on the intentions that come along with the representation.

2.1 Two dimensions
Two-dimensional representations such as paper plans and maps are extremely suitable in giving a direct overview of large and complex plans from a higher perspective (MacEachren 1995; Whyte 2002). This can supply the audience in a quick and efficient way an enormous amount of information about the about the environment. As Whyte (2002) describes it: “In 2D representations, a whole environment can be simultaneously understood from a single vantage point. The ability to look at the world at different scales, such as 1:500, 1:200, 1:100. 1:50, 1:20 and 1:10, allows structures that are most apparent at these different scales to be considered, and moving between scales shifts the focus of attention.” (Whyte 2002, p.36). The two-dimensional perspective is currently the most regular used interface when using GIS. It is possible for the user, via this ‘plan orientated view’ to create and manipulate two-dimensional vector and raster files through the use of graphical interaction and by performing certain queries (Verbree et al. 1999).

2.2 Two and a half dimensions
Before going further in detail about the three-dimensional perspective, it is worthwhile to touch upon the area in between those two perspectives. Also known as the two and a half dimension perspective. According to Marr (1982) two and a half dimension could be interpreted as a perspective shown in 3D but projected onto a 2D screen (Whyte 2002; Marr 1982;).

According to Verbree (1999) this form of representation, also called the model-view provides a bird-eye’s view on a partly symbolic and simplified 3D representation of the data (Verbree et al. 1999). This representation is very suitable for manipulating the individual objects such as is needed for positioning and orientation. Geometric constraints could be defined to align roads and bridges and guarantee continuity in connections under transformations.

2.3 Three dimensions
In comparison to the two-dimensional perspective, a three-dimensional perspective makes it able to see spatial aspects of the existing and proposed built environment. By many writers (Lawrence 1887; Wotton 1624,) it is argued that the physical models of buildings are often more important than paper drawings in case of a building plan. “In more recent times, the use of 3D models are to support collaborative design work, rather than simply a presentation of the final design, has been prompted by a desire to increase public participation.” (Whyte 2002; Lawrence 1987,).

When using three dimensions, the representation of the ’virtual world’ becomes more and more immersive. When using this three-dimensional World-view perspective, the user sees the model from a certain position within the model. The purpose for using this view is to give a realistic impression of the plan (Verbree et al. 1999). Recent trends in representing this ‘virtual world’ are the growing use of first person virtual reality. The following chapter will go further in detail about its concept.

Figure 1: From left to right: Plan-, Model- and World-view modes (Verbree 1999)
3. What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality is described by Unwin and Fisher (2002) as the ability of the user of a constructed view of a limited digitally-encoded information domain to change their view in three dimensions causing update of the view presented to any viewer, especially the user itself (Unwin and Fisher 2002). According to Batty (2008), the typical portrait of virtual reality is the 3D world in which the user is immersed and able to navigate amongst movable objects (Wilson and Fotheringham 2008). While, Whyte (2002) states that the term virtual reality has become used to describe applications in which we can interact with spatial data in real-time. It does not necessarily have to be a three-dimensional environment. It has more to do with the degree a user gets immersed into the virtual environment. A current example is the mobile application Pokemon GO, which only marginally uses three-dimensional effects to create a highly immersive environment.

According to Whyte virtual reality phenomenon could roughly be split up into two aspects, virtual reality as a medium and virtual reality as a system (Whyte 2002).

3.1 virtual reality as a medium
When speaking of virtual reality as a medium, in general it is about the way the environment is represented within this environment. A distinction can be made between three major elements, it should be:
1. interactive – the users are able to interact with models
2. spatial – models are represented in three spatial dimensions
3. real-time – feedback from actions is given without noticeable pause.

3.2 virtual reality as a system
When talking about the system itself, it is more about the used hardware, software and devices to be able to represent the environment. These systems are roughly dividable into immersive, non-immersive and augmented reality (Whyte 2002).

1. Within an immersive system the user is completely within the experience. This will be reached via head-mounted or large wall-mounted special screens based upon hardware with high-end computing power that is able to provide a realistic environment. In general, what makes immersive systems unique, is that it blocks competing signals from the real world from interfering in the virtual experience, and increased the number of sensory channels which receive information about the virtual world (Nunez 2004).

2. The non-immersive system makes use of more standard hardware, and creates an environment that does not totally immerse the viewer within the created world. People are more aware of the screen or display they are looking at. This perspective is also known as the ‘through-the-window’ view.

3. And there is the augmented reality, which overlays a virtual perspective over the real world, allowing the user to interact with both aspects. Rather than immersing a person into a completely synthetic world, augmented reality attempts to embed computer made aspects into the real environment. Therefore, one of the most challenging problems with augmented reality is, that a real environment is much more difficult to control than a completely synthetic one (Bimber and Raskar 2005).

3.3 Virtual reality and its perspectives on the world and ways of navigation
Apart from the essentials of virtual reality, and the used hardware system, another important aspect is its perspective on the created world. Within both immersive and non-immersive virtual reality a variety of viewing perspectives can be differentiated (Whyte 2002). The most important perspectives are:
1. Viewer-centered (egocentric)
By using this perspective, the user will experience the created world from a perspectival view, similar as his perspective in the real world. In most cases in viewer-centered perspective an avatar is used as personal representation.

2. Centered on another object within the model (Exocentric)
This experience is not exclusively bound to the viewpoint from a virtual person. Rather it is disembodied and looks in most cases at an mobile object or person of interest.

3. Outside the model and centered on the model itself (Exocentric)
In case the user is the external observer from a static viewpoint that is able to manipulate the world in front of him.

According to Whyte (2002) of all perspectives, the egocentric perspective is the easiest to interpret for the regular user. Therefore, this perspective is most used within virtual reality. Interaction with the model could take place in many ways: By walking through the model, flying, zooming, panning, orbiting around one point, and more (Whyte 2002).

4. Virtual reality and GIS
Now the question still remains, what relations are there between virtual reality and Geographical Information Science (GIS). In comparison to virtual reality, for GIS the navigation through the virtual space has always been a crucial element. GIS is however historically rooted in 2D maps, which extended over time into very basic 3D environments including temporal dimensions (Wilson and Fotheringham 2008). Since recent years these basic third dimension environments are slowly developing even further by offering their users advanced graphic software packages, including elaborated surface generating techniques based on spatial interpolation. For example ArcScene, ArcGlobe, Unity and CityEngine.

In general it could be said that in its essence both virtual reality and GIS are that they are both largely geographical centered. The main distinction between the two is based on its abstraction (Wilson and Fotheringham 2008). In contrast to virtual reality, the 3D graphic environments that are produced using GIS generally do not immerse the user very much into the environment. Although flying through a 3D GIS environment on a desktop might be considered as part of a virtual reality experience, but is reasonably different compared to the basics as mentioned earlier on.

But what makes virtual reality so appropriate as implementation for GIS? Since the late 1980s, one of the main structures within GIS has been the notion of the layer. Landscapes are constructed via a multiple layer structure containing information about real and abstract properties of the visualized landscapes. One of the biggest opportunities of GIS regarding virtual reality is the idea that different windows on such a surface can be produced within the first person viewing environment. The ability to switch layers on and off in virtual environments give us the power to associate radically different conceptions of the surrounding area. A mutual aspect, since it is one of the essences of virtual reality to give an unusual and perceptive insight into real environments through the virtual (Wilson and Fotheringham 2008).

Up until now, there is a growing amount of research performed about virtual reality as a communication tool and as an extension to Geographical Information Systems. Despite the enormous amount of articles about virtual reality and GIS, the power of virtual reality as a system that enables a two-way communication has yet to be explored (Ball, Capanni, and Watt 2008).

5. Virtual reality and the Omgevingswet
As mentioned in the introduction, one of the most important tasks of the Omgevingswet is to create an environment that enhances more public participation with new regulations. According to its slogan: “eenvoudig beter: minder regels, meer verantwoordelijkheid bij burgers, met behoud van beschermingsniveau en met voordeel voor iedereen”, it is for the government one of their top priorities to involve and inform ordinary citizens, in an earlier stage of the process, in a better way about the overall land-use regulations and zoning plans (Steenbekkers et al. 2016).
The current knowledge about creating first person three-dimensional environments, may contribute to the development of a more personal en immersive experience for the user, which could lead to an increased involvement with the Omgevingswet. But is this actually true?

Methodology and design scheme

The following chapter discusses the used methodology for this research.

Question 1
Why are the current geo-portals not suitable in informing citizens about the upcoming Omgevingswet? And how could a first person 3-dimensional view overcome these problems?

This question could roughly be split up in three sections. The research question will start with a general explanation about the upcoming transition of current Dutch land use regulations into the Omgevingswet. The focus will be on its joint character. Since the upcoming Omgevingswet offers the opportunity to combine themed regulations on infrastructure, water, buildings, cultural heritage, air, soil and scenery. Of which some of those are 3-dimensional in its character, such as noise pollution (Stoter 2015). But it will also pay attention to its role with respect to the ordinary Dutch civilians. In what way are citizens currently involved in regulations, and what are the plans for the future?
The second part of the research question is about the suitability of the current geo-portals in case of new legislation. Therefore these geo-portals are going to be examined regarding their fitness for use in case of the new regulations and its intentions on participation of civilians. In doing so the recent developments of the website are going to be analyzed and tested on its readability. Is the 2-dimensional top down view still usable in case of new regulations? And is the portal user friendly designed for ordinary citizens?
The third part of the question will go further in detail about the possible solutions regarding these problems. This part of the chapter will take a closer look at the opportunities in using a 3-dimensional first person view and other immersive perspectives instead of a 2-dimensional top down view in order to enhance the citizens engagement (Whyte 2002).

Question 2
What are the possibilities of a first person interface in enhancing the civilians’ usability of these platforms regarding the Omgevingswet? And how should this be designed and prototyped?

The overall aim of the second question is to identify the possibilities and ways of implementation of a first person interface in enhancing the civilians understanding and participation with the Omgevingswet.
Therefore this chapter also seeks to identify the characteristics and needs of the eventual users of the system. What are their individual and shared interests within the surrounding environment? On the basis of these characteristics it is possible to design and prototype a usable first person 3-dimensional environment for the users.
The reason to build a prototype is because of its potential usefulness when discussing or evaluating the feasibility of an idea. The purpose of the prototype will influence the kind of prototype you build (Preece, Rogers, and Sharp 2015). Since this research is interested in the added value of a more personal perspective on the Omgevingswet to be able to enhance the civilian’s involvement, a high-fidelity prototype will be build that simulates the first person view. Due to the scale of this research, this prototype will be designed within the virtual reality context, and will be based upon the identified aspects of the Omgevingswet and needs of potential users. Programs that are going to be used for the design are: Arcgis, SketchUp, Arcscene, ArcGlobe and CityEngine.

Probable design steps and used applications for prototype:
The environment:

The data:

Question 3
What are ways to measure and test the difference in usability between current portals and a first person prototype?

The third chapter will describe the used methodology in testing the usability and user experience of both the current geo-portals and the eventual prototype. This will be done through a questionnaire or by observing certain performed tasks with two different respondent groups with equal characteristics (Preece et al. 2015).
Before doing so, there are certain key issues that have to be addressed. The overall goal of the data gathering needs to be identified. These goals will indicate the type of participants of which the data will be gathered from. And a pilot study needs to be performed to make sure that the proposed method is viable before embarking of the real study (Preece et al. 2015).
As mentioned earlier, the eventual usability test could be performed in multiple ways. In first, it is possible to do observations of performed tasks. Both through direct observations in a controlled environment, by making use of eye-tracking techniques, or indirect observations by tracking the users’ activities on the basis of preconceived tasks (Preece et al. 2015).
The second possibility is to perform a structured questionnaire in order to collect demographic data and the users’ specific opinion about the prototype.

Question 4
How do the results of usability tests relate to each other?

The final question will compare and discuss the results of the performed usability tests. Depending on the nature of the eventual usability test design, it is possible to perform both quantitative and qualitative analysis.
In case of the questionnaires it is more likely that a quantitative approach will be used, while in case of observations of tasks the qualitative approach seems more appropriate (Preece et al. 2015). ANOVA tests could be performed to compare the traditional two-dimensional representation with potential new three-dimensional first person representations.

The figure below gives an overview of the overall work process and methodology.

Question 1

Question 2

Question 3

Question 4

Steps in creating 3D environment & performance log

This chapter gives an overview of the performed tasks, practices and steps to be taken
regarding the creation of a three-dimensional environment.

Creating a 3D environment
1. Import TOP10NL file into ArcGIS, and clip the used neighbourhood
In first a file containing information about the geometry of buildings in combination with building height is clipped for in case of the prototyped area.

2. Import clipped TOP10NL file into ArcScene, modify actual height, and export file as a Collada file.
After selecting the used neighbourhood, the file will be tested on its three-dimensionality via ArcScene. The buildings will be interpolated on the basis of its height attribute (See figure ..). Thereafter the layer will be converted to a feature class, and to a Collada file via the tools Layer 3D to Feature Class and Multipatch to Collada.

3. Import Collada file into Sketch Up, and add detail to the basic environment and save as SKP file.
Via Sketch Up it is possible to modify the basic shapes into a more realistic urban environment. This part is still in progress.

Represent 3D environment in a first person application

1. Import Sketch Up file in Kubity
Basic virtual reality experience could be performed via the application Kubity. This program makes it able to watch a Sketch Up files from multiple perspectives, on your desktop and mobile phone.

Implementing Omgevingswet information in virtual environment
However, the challenging part of creating a three-dimensional environment in case of the omgevingswet is the implementation of the actual law-restricted parameters within the model. A layer based structure within the three-dimensional environment, in which different types of data could be switched on and off.

Most obvious choice is to use ArcScene for the second time, after editing the Sketch Up model. Via the Set Observer tool it is possible to manipulate the observers location, to simulate the first person view. However, this is just a tool within the program ArcScene itself. The ultimate challenge is discover ways to represent this layer-based structure within a closed first person environment. Possibly more advanced virtual reality techniques and applications are needed, such as Unity.


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