The Questionable Promise of Technology


See? We told you it would work...

See? We told you it would work...

Using computers to arrange and sort data is useful for all sorts of things - especially when in comes to creating three dimensional imagery. Nobody can deny the impact of presenting scanned data for medical diagnostic purposes; or the use of scaled multi-disciplinary construction models that can simulate a 3D environment: very useful for ascertaining “clashes” between different trades as well as presenting the architect and client with views of his proposed effort.

But despite the technology drum beater’s boosterism (think laptops for kids, FSD style) there reaches a point in every computer application where the information is either too dense or voluminous to be assimilated or analyzed by those looking at it; or is just plain non-effective compared to traditional approaches; or worst, lends itself to misinterpretation or deliberate misrepresentation. This point of diminishing returns is reached quickest when the recipients of data just don’t know what to do with it. When that occurs they’re bound to do something bad with it.

Such may very well be the case with a City of Fullerton program that promises to create a three dimensional model of downtown Fullerton. We received an e-mail the other day from Al Zelinka, who works for the Planning Department. We point out that Mr. Zelinka is very careful to explain that the pilot program is being paid for by SCAG, not the City (where SCAG got the money is obviously not a point of interest for Mr. Zelinka, or, presumably, us).

First, we are inevitably forced to ask why. Who will benefit from the necessary resources plowed into such a program? It’s hard to answer.  And who will be able to use the information? We can envisage all sorts of staff (and consultant)  time going into creating maintaining and manipulating such data; and then the inevitable jargon and rhetoric tossed back to the public to foist staff driven projects onto the public. The Council: aha! See? The 3D model supports (fill in the name of the Redevelopment Agency’s favored project).

Perhaps the most important question is whether, once the model is done, it needs to be tended and updated by the City. If not, the effort going into seems to be something of a waste.

In any case the public are invited to a meeting on December 16th @ 6 PM in the Council Chambers to see the wonders of 3D modeling. No doubt all of our questions will be answered with sparkling clarity.

At the bottom of his e-mail Mr. Zelinka (AICP) includes a quotation that ought to give pause to even the biggest Planning Department cheerleader:

“Dedicated to Making a Difference.”

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir [women's and] men’s blood….” – Daniel Burnham

Ay, ay, ay!

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  1. #1 by Salesman on December 8, 2009

    Never trust a technology salesman. I should know, I am one.

  2. #2 by just a guy on December 8, 2009

    Let’s take that further – never trust a technology salesman or your government. And when the two get together, watch out!

  3. #3 by Greg on December 8, 2009

    3d modeling of the downtown isn’t such a bad idea on its face. The data can/should be tied to Google Earth and other GIS data mines which would, arguably, benefit downtown businesses. However, M. Peabody brings up a very important question with respect to who will maintain such a database.

    Most cities have a GIS (geographic information system) person or department depending on size. The GIS is usually under the public works/engineering department-heads because those departments use the information daily. So taking this 3d information and including it with the City’s existing GIS (at least I think Fullerton has a GIS) would be good.

    Also, ESRI (the No. 1 GIS software manufacturer) has developed a global GIS database structure. It networks with other GIS databases creating what amounts to a global GIS. It’s like taking Google Earth, Mozilla, Yahoo, and all of the world’s geographic information systems into one massive system that is accessible to the public.

    So in conclusion, if the City of Fullerton wants to be a 21st century city like Orange, Anaheim, or Los Angeles to name a few, it should incorporate GIS data from sources like the 3d data being pondered. As for the maintenance…If we have no GIS, there is nothing to maintain. And if we DO have a GIS, it would be business as usual for the GIS person.

  4. #4 by Ling Cod on December 8, 2009

    I believe Al Zelinka works for Community Development, not the Redevelopment Dept. Mr. Peabody, since you are the author, would you be so kind as to verify which department it is?

  5. #5 by Skeptical on December 8, 2009

    “The data can/should be tied to Google Earth and other GIS data mines which would, arguably, benefit downtown businesses”

    How?

    GIS isn’t the issue. The issue is – what’s the purpose of a 3D downtown model? To see what the brick veneer looks like axonometrically?

  6. #6 by Mr. Peabody on December 8, 2009

    Lingster, you are correct. I didn’t look at the job title. Al Zelinka works in the Planning Department.

    The whole topic struck me as well, you know, Redevelopmentish.

  7. #7 by Greg on December 8, 2009

    How: Without getting too technical (or calling ESRI) the City could publish data to a Google Earth file format (KML/KMZ) which would allow users to “see” both Google Earth data together with the City 3D model.

    Why: I see it as a potential benefit to the local businesses. This 3D model could help customers “map” the best route to a business. IMO, Some of the buildings can be difficult to navigate for first-time customers. My wife had a terrible time locating an office in the Vila del Sol building. I had a devil of a time finding an engineer in the old BofA building.

    When I am going someplace that is mission-critical, like the tax-collector or my in-laws, I look up the address in Google Earth to get an idea of what the area looks like. I use Google’s terrain model along with their street view for additional input. I have discovered that streets which appear to be intersecting now have barricades. I have also found that some businesses do not have substantial signs to look for. I use it as my crystal ball for all/most of my trips. I could see the 3D model being helpful to that end.

    As a tool for planners, they could see the relationship between existing buildings. Then they might be able to make better decisions as to impact of construction on local properties.

    If the whole thing went away, it wouldn’t bother me, but I do see a benefit to having the data available.

  8. #8 by Greg on December 8, 2009

    As stated above (#5)…It would make some sense as a planning tool.

  9. #9 by van get it da artiste on December 8, 2009

    why all the angst over appropriate use of advanced technology to best meet the needs of fullerton? If the sages on Fullerton’s Redevelopment don’t get what they want all they have to do is get the fullerton historical preservation society to declare an eyesore/public urinal a hisorical edifice like the fox theatre. Once this appendage gets control of an area then it calls the shots on how the surrounding area will be redeveloped. FFFF correct me if I’m wrong in my beliefs on this topic.

  10. #10 by nerd alert on December 8, 2009

    Greg : When I am going someplace that is mission-critical, like the tax-collector or my in-laws, I look up the address in Google Earth to get an idea of what the area looks like. I use Google’s terrain model along with their street view for additional input. I use it as my crystal ball for all/most of my trips.

    Greg, you are a nerd. Nothing wrong with that, but you are not in the target market for downtown businesses.

    Downtown is looking for the kind of consumers who give a credit card to the bartender, get drunk and forget to take it back. Women who buy $200 sweaters from a boutique store just because they can. Red Hat society shoppers. Yellowing observers.

    All of these people either know where they are going or don’t care where they end up. None of them will benefit from a 3d model of downtown fullerton.

  11. #11 by Greg on December 8, 2009

    I’ve been called worse here… Nerd isn’t so bad.

    Although there is some truth to the your picture of the DT customers, there is a much larger picture we may want to study. What about tomorrow? 5 or 10 years down the road I hope to see an improvement in the patrons of these local businesses and an increase in overall business, not just liquor sales. That would help raise property values, taxes, and overall revenues. This technology would, IMO, certainly help to get there. In the meantime, i do enjoy a drink and cigar from time to time at the Slidebar or one of the other cigar-friendly drinking establishments while my wife window-shops. After 20 years of date nights, its the sort of date where both of us get exactly what we want… ;0)

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