Westwood : System Helps Planners 'See'

The Los Angeles City Council has approved funds for UCLA's Urban Innovations Group to buy a virtual-reality computer system that will enable planners to "see" neighborhood plans being drawn up for the Pico-Union district of Los Angeles.

The motion to authorize the $175,000 purchase was made last week by Councilman Mike Hernandez, who represents Pico-Union, an area that was heavily damaged during last year's riots.

Dubbed the "Crimson Reality Engine," the technology is similar to that used to generate special effects in "Jurassic Park" and "Terminator 2." The system not only allows users to view proposed design changes, but also draws upon information such as census, crime and transportation data to generate a dynamic presentation that can simulate events such as auto congestion and pedestrian traffic.

"These visualization systems allow you to take complex visual information and render it in a graphic form understandable to anybody," said Richard Weinstein, dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. "The images are so realistic you would have thought it is a videotape of the community."

The Urban Innovations Group is the not-for-profit "practice arm" of the graduate school and is staffed by UCLA faculty, graduates and students. For the project, the group will manage a team of UCLA faculty and students drawn from nine professional programs, including the School of Law, the School of Social Welfare and the schools of Nursing, Public Health and Medicine.

Weinstein said the Pico-Union area was chosen for the project because of the efforts of Hernandez, as well as for its location. Bordered by downtown, Koreatown and a middle-class neighborhood, Pico-Union is a diverse and challenging area for urban planners, Weinstein said. "Any issue that you want to identify as central and typical (to urban planning), you've got," he said.

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