I am a city planner and urban designer and I am interested in City Engine as I see it as a potential way to speed up our design process and any changes we make to it. My company is located in Taiwan and we work on master plans in Asia where we have to create entirely new cities on a large scale. I have downloaded the City Engine trial version but didn't have too much time to dabble into it yet, I understand that going through all the tutorials etc. might answer my question(s) but I would like to know first if it is worth it or not to delve into this software.
Producing a master plan is very time consuming, since, on top of the conceptual thinking concerning the urban form and various functions of the city, you then have to spend many hours drawing on AutoCAD or similar software to add buildings, roads, sidewalks (with appropriate turn radius according to road type), and so on (not even talking about adding zebra crossings, street lamps, trees or traffic lane markings for renderings, which could be nice to have set up automatically instead of adding them "manually" in the 2D or 3D model or later on in Photoshop renderings). It would be also great to only have to design the major roads of the city and, once they have been properly defined, to have blocks and streets automatically created between these roads so that we could focus on the design and not on dumb, repetitive tasks.
It seems that AutoCAD Infrastructure modeller for instance can do some of these things, but what really sets City Engine apart is its procedural engine that enables users to specify some type of buildings and "populate" city blocks with it.
At the same time, while I can see how great this would be for someone using CE to create an imaginary city for a video game for instance, I am wondering if CE could offer the degree of accuracy and creative freedom needed for real life projects: is it possible to have it for instance respect certain development constraints? Such as following a pattern defined by a few main roads imported from AutoCAD, not creating blocks in areas kept for open space or for historical buildings, etc. Basically, it would be great to be able to import a simple wireline pattern of main roads in City Engine along with the site boundaries and possibly (but not necessarily) a 3d terrain model, assign different road widths, different sidewalk widths and different corner radius to different roads according to different categories (highway - with proper interchanges and access ramps and perhaps toll if possible), artery road, boulevard/avenue, street, alley, pedestrian paths) and specify if they must have bicycle paths or lanes (with correct turn radius and widths for single or double paths) and trees or not (while defining tree distance from the curb edge, distance from tree to tree, and perhaps even choose between a few common tree species) and have CE automatically add all of that. It would also be possible to assign different building types and block types to different zones (residential, commercial...) and add some constraints (for instance, if there is a river, not put any buildings on it and at a certain distance from it). And to easily add some textures to ground surfaces in addition to textures for buildings (I know you can do it for buildings). It would be great if the whole model could then be exported as an accurate 3D model (for instance to use for renderings or as a base for a more detailed site plan) as well as a 2D model only (with only the buildings, roads etc. footprints on the ground, providing it is flat).
Let me know what are your thoughts on that! It would be great if any urban designer has already integrated CE in his workflow and was willing to share his thoughts/pictures here. Again, I am not looking for tutorials here on how to do all of that, I just want to know if all or part of it can be done by CE and if it could be a good idea to integrate CE in my workflow.
I'm not an Urban Planner but I work for a council creating potential city plans for them. What you have described is ideal in CityEngine. I've already used it to create a realistic version of my City with specific models for the main streets and random models for buildings such as houses. If you use ArcGIS it becomes even easier as you can use the specific attributes. I have mine set up to display different buildings based on Zoning laws. You can also use one of the rule files already created in the tutorials to create your roads and easily modify parts such as the footpath widths and number of lanes etc. You can easily create the roads from imported AutoCad data too.
One excellent thing you can do is create an envelope which contains information on all your planning rules such as the building heights, roof shapes and angles, and building setbacks from the boundary. This will then create a model of the maximum building extent. Within this envelope you can then extrude a potential building with randomised variations and be able to visualise both together. What I'm talking about is explained well in this blog : http://zergone.blogspot.co.nz/
I also add textures to the ground, such as grass and gravel etc. You can export the models in a large number of 3D formats as well as 2D shapefiles and AutoCad dxf.
Thank you very much for your answer, it is quite helpful indeed! I will look into the website you mention and spend more time with CityEngine to understand more of its potential, which indeed seems very promising. Thank you !
What I wanted to add is that CE does not really provide you with specific features you'd find in a civil engineering application. Thus, you'll e.g. not find curve radii and such for each curved street segment. Without those 'shackles' of the engineering precision, you have a MUCH faster turnaround in creating and testing multiple scenarios. And once your overall stats of your masterplan are ok, you can trace your results with tools which have engineering precision in an other tool, if needed.
Thank you for your quick reply, I appreciate it! You are right, curve radii (that's better than radius indeed :)) are not very important at the master planning stage, as long as it looks ok, since these things are calculated precisely anyway at a later stage by transportation engineers. I'm in the middle of your second tutorial right now, that's great and I look forward to learning more about City Engine. Thank you!