“People were angry.”
Dr. Michael Duncan of Niagara College is describing the mood of a public meeting held several years ago in the town of Beamsville. The town was planning to widen one of its main thoroughfares, Ontario Street, and a group of citizens was up in arms about the potential effects. The meeting was designed to give the firm in charge of the project, Delcan Engineering, an opportunity to present its plans—and citizens an opportunity to air their concerns.
“Normally,” explains Dr. Duncan, “if people are mad at the beginning of a presentation like this, they’re still mad by the end of it.” But instead of relying on the usual abstract drawings, Delcan showed a three-dimensional, virtual reality model of the proposed new streetscape, created by Dr. Duncan and his colleagues at Niagara College—and funded in part by an investment from the Ontario Innovation Trust. The model allowed citizens to stand on their own virtual “door steps” and see what the changes would look like.
With this unique new perspective on the plan, residents were able to see that the impact of the project would be much less than they had feared. Within a short time, angry questions were replaced by happy conversation and even laughter. “When people can see stuff,” Dr. Duncan says, “good things tend to happen.”