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This award-winning project brings climate change into the videogame world

This award-winning project brings climate change into the videogame world

Standing in their backyards, workplaces and schools, Wellingtonians will see the future rising seas inundate their city, within a “digital twin” of the capital.

The Global Mayors Challenge awarded the prize of US$1 million (NZ$1.5m). This money will be used to develop a video-game-like version the capital.

From a screen, users will be able to travel back to the city’s past and into the future, modelled on the latest scientific projections. They’ll be able to see what protections against the rising tides – from sea walls to mangroves – will look like, cost and how long they’ll last. The council hopes that the tool will simplify a complex, but crucial topic and increase citizen engagement.

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Many of the climate change impacts are being felt. Take decades or centuriesto take effect, future generations will be affected by sea level rise and heavier rainfall, even if the world makes drastic reductions in emissions today. Councils will oversee a lot of the work needed to help residents adapt to these changes. This job will be particularly problematic in cities – including Wellington – where Billions of dollarsIt is possible to see the details of buildings, facilities, housing and other properties.

The decisions on how long to protect vulnerable areas and when to retreat will significantly affect residents’ lives and livelihoods. Despite this, councils have difficulty getting citizens to participate enough to give input.

Julia Hamilton, Wellington City Council’s spokesperson, said that a hyper-realistic world could bring scientific projections to life. “It enables people to really feel a connection with what they’re seeing.”

Currently a prototype, the video game version of Wellington will help residents understand the impacts of climate change.

Wellington City Council/Supplied

The video game version Wellington, currently in prototype form, will help residents to understand the effects of climate change.

Before entering the competition, the council had already planned to create a digital twin for Wellington. The tool will be used beyond climate adaptation – to present transport and urban design proposals, for example.

The council was selected as a finalist and received US$50,000 (NZ$74,000), to help develop climate applications. The concept was presented to community groups and mana whenua for feedback – the latter suggested that rather simply being a tool representing the present day and the future, the model of the city could also recreate the past.

It is still a prototype. A model of today’s city has been created out of height data, aerial imagery and 3D building models. The team will continue to add historical data, temperature projections, sea level rise, and storm surge modeling to the tool over the next year. It is expected that the tool will be available in mid-2023.

Hamilton stated that the gamified city will be accessible whenever residents desire it.

The council wants the tool to look hyper-realistic to bring home the effects of climate change – and boost engagement.

Wellington City Council/Supplied

The council wants the tool to look hyper-realistic to bring home the effects of climate change – and boost engagement.

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“It means you’ll be able to spend time at home exploring it. You can do it on your phone,” she added. “You might look at using augmented reality, so people can go down to their area, put up their phone and see the potential application.”

You might eventually use sections of the digital community to consult a particular community. The Island Bay community could use it, for example, to visualize and compare protection features such as rock walls, mangroves, or dunes, based upon engineering work done by the council. Residents could mark areas that are important to them, create their preferred option or enter data into the tool.

The tool will look similar to a videogame city. However, users are not allowed to create avatars or interact directly with characters.

The Global Mayors Challenge, a philanthropic organization founded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg and former New York City mayor. The competition promotes problem-solving ideas in cities that can be replicated and shared. Fifty finalists – including Auckland – for this year’s round were announced last year. From this shortlist, 15 cities were awarded the grand prize, based on the proposed project’s novelty, feasibility, impact and transferability.

Bloomberg Philanthropies prize programme manager Michael Odermatt​ said the idea was an innovative solution for a very common problem for councils. “The climate crisis is something that touches residents almost universally around the world.”

The Unreal Engine open-source software program is used to build the digital city. This allows other cities, citizens, and iwi to understand the development and use it for their own purposes.

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