The Growing Impact of Towns and Cities in Google Earth

July 28 2008 / by justinelee / In association with Future
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 3

In its effort to catalog and effectively share the world’s information, Google continues to improve its dynamic representation of earth and has now extended its reach to cities and towns.

The first time I experienced Google Earth, I was pretty impressed. Accessing satellite information, I was able to navigate most any location on the planet that I was interested in, from a bird’s eye view. Of course the first thing I did was check out my street, the homes of my past, and landmarks around my town.

Next I was introduced to Street View, a visualization composed of photos taken from automobiles that allows full 3D street navigation. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when Street View was at last integrated with Google Maps, that I could travel down my street take a glance at my house and my car parked neatly on the curb. That was really cool to me. I found myself wondering where I was the time the photos was taken, and being thankful they hadn’t caught me outside my house in an early morning stupor.

After some light research I found that Google isn’t just concerned with satisfying my curiosity. It has found ways to make money with this technology while expanding its functionality for important, decision-making parties.

Google introducing advanced versions of the platform with Google Earth Pro ($400/year), a collaborative tool for commercial and professional use and Google Earth Plus ($20/year) for everyday map enthusiasts. It also provides non-profit organizations with Earth Outreach, a program that allows organizations to map their projects to help engage users.

In March 2008, Google Earth introduced Cities in 3D which is unsurprisingly a complete 3D visualization of numerous cities. To contribute to this effort, users can submit and share renditions of structures and buildings using Google’s SketchUp. The program primarily relies on city governments to submit their 3D information electronically (for free) and invites them to review the benefits.

The benefits for local governments seem rather extensive. They include: engaging the public in planning, fostering economic development, boosting tourism, simplifying navigation analysis, enhancing facilities management, supporting security and crime prevention, and facilitating emergency management.

Participating city Amherst, Mass. saw a rise in citizen participation big decisions. When Gavin Andresen, an Amherst resident stood up during a town meeting to argue in favor of a re-zoning proposal, he used Google Earth screenshots of the model to illustrate his points. The proposal eventually passed.

There are many other similar success stories. Currently, the cities covered include: Amherst, Mass., Jamestown, N.Y., Washington D.C., Greenville, S.C., McMinnville, Tenn., and the Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County, Tenn.

While the positives seem to greatly outweigh the negatives, there still are some serious concerns:

Privacy: More conservative cities, including North Oaks, Minn., have successfully vouched against participating in Google’s Street View project. We can expect that there there are cities that will decide that privacy is a higher priority than the possibility of economic development.

Security: The claims that the program can make streets safer when used productively by law enforcement could also have the opposite effect if utilized by organized crime. To combat more large-scale security issues, data from various military and government bases have been erased. For a full list of what we can’t see with Google Earth, check out 51 Things Not On Google Maps..

Although Google Earth’s 3D cities initiative is a noble step, Google still has a long way to go in its goal to quantify the world into a useful and monetizable simulation. For now, with improvements in scope and in resolution, the near-term value is certainly there for towns and cities and we can expect that many will soon join and be simulated.

via Mashable

Comment Thread (3 Responses)

  1. I had a geography prof who always had Google earth open during class, and at the ready all times. Like you said, I can think of many positives of Google earth. Thanks for the link to 51 things not on Google maps, interesting!! Hopefully we can change into a world that doesn’t have to keep any secrets.

    Posted by: AJ0111   July 29, 2008
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  2. At this point Google Earth to me is a novelty and is of no real use to an average user like myself. I do foresee that at some point the 3D technology will be integrated into Google Maps as broadband speeds increase and browsers (and plugins) become more robust. Maybe by then Google Earth will have a strong database of 3D information to have a fully realized 3D world right at our browsing fingertips.

    Posted by: zakkuree   July 30, 2008
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  3. AJ0111: I never had a chance to take a geography class, but I wish I did. That’s cool your professor used Google Earth as a reference in his teaching. Haha, I believe that there is a very little chance that our world will ever completely be rid of secrets at the government-intelligence-military level…

    zakkuree: I agree, faster broadband speeds and more capable browsers are definite criteria for a truly 3D navigating experience in Google Maps. What do you think of the current Street View? My feeling is it’s totally awesome, but could see it running more smoothly..more fluid and require less clicks spanning more area.

    Posted by: zakkuree   July 30, 2008
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