The Urban95 virtual reality experience was born from a desire to help improve, through urban planning, policy, and design, the living conditions of young children and their caregivers living in urban environments.
By 2050, 70% of the global population will live in cities. The challenge for city leaders, planners, architects and innovators is to create urban environments that satisfy the needs of those that live within them. Importantly, this includes the needs of children, for whom early experiences can have profound effects throughout the lifespan.
However, the needs and aspirations of 0-5-year olds and their caregivers are often ignored, even by child-friendly initiatives. To encourage the new thinking required to transform urban environments into child-friendly cities, we designed a virtual reality (VR) experience to help people with the power to change cities experience what it’s like to be small in a big city. The experience was developed to act as a mechanism for change. It aims to raise awareness about some of the common challenges currently faced by young children in cities around the world, and trigger decision-makers and thought leaders into thinking from the perspective of a 3-year-old.
To achieve this, our virtual and visualisation, acoustics, and behavioural experts collaborated with the Bernard van Leer Foundation and developed an experience that allows users to ‘virtually’ halve in size and become 95cm tall, the average height of a 3-year-old, within a fictional piece of urban realm.
70% of people will live in cities by 2050 globally
95cmthe average height of a three-year-old
The wellbeing of babies, toddlers and their caregivers is the best measure of a vibrant, prosperous and healthy city. Yet, they can be invisible to city leaders as a group with specific needs. In collaboration with Arup’s Virtual & Visualisation team, we are pioneering innovative virtual reality technology that allows everyone to experience a city from 95cm – the height of a 3-year-old ”Ardan Kockelkoren Urban95 Coordinator, Bernard van Leer Foundation
A new combination of experiential technologies
The virtual reality represents a living, breathing urban environment as accurately as possible, where no two experiences are the same. This is achieved by combining a series of filmed actors with a traffic system controlled by artificial intelligence and a real-time positional audio, creating a world where users can explore at their own pace, and explore how a child perceives and interacts with its surroundings.
The equipment is easily transportable, allowing it to travel to various events, conferences, partners or other places where it can be used to convince thought leaders of the importance of Urban95 policies.
Moving beyond the VR experience
To introduce and accompany the experience, we developed a short series of activities, which allow users to be taken on a journey from the real world into virtual reality, and back to the real world. One activity involves users recreating an urban environment from their childhood and drawing this with their less dominant hand prior to the experience.
This goal-oriented approach looks beyond the VR experience itself, to shape the outcomes people take away, allowing them to fully explore the Urban95 question “If you could experience a city from 95cm – the height of a 3-year-old – what would you change?”
This collaboration with Bernard van Leer Foundation was an incredible opportunity to use virtual technologies as catalysts for social change. Inspiring designers, planners and policy makers through experience shows the power of immersive technologies. ”Henry Harris Associate, Virtual and Visualisation