The Settlers of the United States of Catan

Posted by on Sep 11, 2019 in Blog Article, HLA Blog

Houseal Lavigne Transforms the National Land Cover geospatial data into the iconic board game Settlers of Catan

I wanted to share a poster and process my team and I completed for the Map Gallery at Esri’s User Conference this past July. While we managed to win an award for another map, one I’ll share in a few weeks, this map came up short. However I think just about anyone at the conference would agree it was one of the most interesting and popular maps at the event. If you are interested in a high-resolution JPG or PDF of the full poster (84″ x 48″) connect with us on our company’s LinkedIn page and let us know. A low-res JPG is at the bottom of the story.

In the new Golden Age of gaming, board games are no exception. Over the past decade, board games have seen a resurgence driven by independent games that feature innovative game mechanics, artistic design, and online versions to engage new players. Millennials have had a large part in the board game boom, embracing ‘table-top’ games as social events. This includes dedicated board game shops with spaces for casual and competitive events and the most popular games are developing regional and even international leagues where players test their skills and strategy.

At the foundation of this resurgence is the board game The Settlers of Catan. First published in Germany in 1995, ‘Settlers’ has long acted as a first introduction into the world of detailed, strategy-based board games. Since it’s publication, Settlers has sold over 20 million copies in 30 different languages including various expansions and spinoffs, making it one of the world’s most popular board games. This includes versions themed to Star Trek and Game of Thrones. Settlers of Catan Copyright © 2019 Catan Studio, Inc. and Catan GmbH. All rights reserved.

Embracing our inner nerd, we set out to reimagine our world within the confines of the Settlers of Catan, using the game’s distinct hexagonal tiles to create a game board of the continental United States. Using Esri software we applied the rules and game pieces of Settlers to the United States, developing a new board informed by land coverage, cities, population, and other data. While perhaps unplayable, this new board game of America provides an interesting lens through which to view geospatial data of the United States.

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Our Process

Classifying the Tiles

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The first step in developing our Settlers map of the United States was to identify a method to classify the individual hexagonal tiles. We knew that once we applied a hexagonal grid to the county, we would need a way to enrich the tiles with data to inform what landscape each would be. Our ultimate goal was that each hexagonal tile would be reduced to a single landscape, similar to the game itself. For this we used the United States Geological Survey’s national land cover database, which offers recently updated and credible data. Reviewing the defined categories, we determined that land cover could be sorted into the six landscape types of the game. Using the data would allow us to identify a majority land cover for each tile that would inform what landscape each hexagon received.

USA into Hexagons

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Our next step was to apply a hexagonal grid to the United States and create the individual hexagons that would represent the tiles of the game. We used the Generate Tessellation tool which creates a grid in either hexagon, square, diamond, or triangle shapes. Using the extent of the U.S. as our input, we created a hexagonal grid reflective of the board game. To make sure the shape and orientation was consistent with Settlers of Catan, we created ‘transverse hexagons.’ This process required some trial and error to find the preferred size of the hexagons that would be small enough to pick up attributes of the land cover while big enough to be legible as tiles on the map. We eventually decided on hexagons 50,000 square miles in size.

Reclassifying the Raster Data

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To prepare the data for our map we used the Reclassify geoprocessing tool within Spatial Analyst to convert the National Land Cover Database’s 20 categories into our 6 identified landscapes from the board game. Given the large size of the data, encompassing land cover for the entire country, the raster data was simplified with the Majority Filter, which identifies and changes individual pixels completely surrounded by a different land cover. In addition, we used the Boundary Clean tool to smooth out boundaries, making the data easier to manage. 

Summarizing Data within the Hexes

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Having developed our hexagonal tiles and prepared the raster data, our next step was to join data in order to identify what Settlers landscape each tile should be. For this we used the Zonal Histogram geoprocessing tool, which summarized the quantity of individual raster pixels, each representing land cover, within each hexagon. The resulting table informed us of the land cover breakdown of each hexagon. We exported this data and used Microsoft Access to summarize and determine, based on land cover and our Settlers categories, what landscape each tile would be.  

Weighting the Results

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Upon completing this step, we were unhappy with the results, which showed the majority of the U.S. as pasture, forest, and field. Reviewing our work, we realized that the land cover categories which we had attributed to hills and mountains were very few, even in areas we knew they should be present. A great example was the rocky mountains, where the land cover was often defined as shrubs or forests even if on an intense slope. Understanding this limitation, we developed a weighting system to better emphasize areas of hills and mountains and achieve a more even distribution of tiles on our map. Once we were happy with the output of the weighted system, we brought our table back into ArcGIS and joined it with our hexagonal tiles. This acted as the base for our final map, which was stylized in CityEngine to add texture.

Adding the Chits

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To develop the chits for each tile, we needed to enrich our hexagons with necessary demographic data. For this we added data from the populated places from Esri’s Living Atlas and summarized data within each hexagon. We summarized total population which determined the board game’s probability scale – This scale is based on the probability of a dice roll, with the most favorable numbers being those with the highest probability; 6’s and 8’s, and the least favorable being those with the lowest, 2’s and 12’s (7’s are the single highest probability, but are reserved for the robber). Applying this scale to our population data, we gave the largest populations the highest probabilities scaled down to the lowest receiving the lowest probabilities. We also textured the probability counter on each chit based on this information. We also used the summarized data to identify the largest place by land area. The first letter of the largest place was applied to the chit. 

Finishing In CityEngine

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To finish the board, we exported the geodatabase and brought it into CityEngine. In CityEngine we wrote and applied CGA (procedural) rules to the hexagons and the spaces between to help stylize the board and incorporate other components of the game. This included rules to apply textures to each landscape, using pictures of the board game tiles, as well as rules to add the settlements, cities, roads, and chits. We also used CityEngine to extrude each tile to add depth. We extruded the hexagonal tiles, chits, and roads as well as the settlements and cities while applying appropriate roof types to mimic the game pieces. The result was a fully textured, 3D Settlers game board of the United States. 

About Houseal Lavigne

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We are an innovation-based urban planning and design firm. We pride ourselves on creativity, collaboration, and delivery of quality. Our team approach is built on strong relationships, the exchange of ideas, and a commitment to the integration of technology. Our priorities are to do good, have fun, work hard, and provide responsive, visionary, and viable solutions to our clients and partners. We are a proud partner of Esri, and believe that the integration of the most current technologies should be used to improve the planning process and product—increasing communication and involvement with the public, gathering and assessing vital information, and producing more effective plans, concepts, and recommendations. 

Esri Partners Make Ports, Events, and Cities Run Efficiently

Posted by on Apr 1, 2019 in Blog Article, HLA Blog

Esri Partners Make Ports, Events, and Cities Run Efficiently

Esri PartnersSpring 2019

Esri partners are breaking fresh ground with ArcGIS implementations that span countries, industries, purposes, and capabilities. From creating a city’s comprehensive master plan and instituting enterprise GIS at a critical port to building apps for a big event and making street-level imagery more accessible, the organizations that make up the Esri Partner Network do extraordinary things with location intelligence and advanced spatial analytics. Check out some recent projects to get just a taste of what working with Esri partners can ignite.

Advanced Spatial Analytics Reveals Redevelopment Opportunities in Michigan

Often dubbed Cereal City because it hosts Kellogg’s global headquarters, Battle Creek is a regional economic center in western Michigan that was looking for some direction in planning for future development and investment. Recently, the city partnered with Houseal Lavigne Associates to update its master plan, which incorporates spatial data heavily to help guide the area’s evolution.

A master plan
Battle Creek was looking for some direction in planning for future development and investment. The city partnered with Houseal Lavigne Associates to update its master plan.

First, Houseal Lavigne Associates used ArcGIS Business Analyst to assess the city’s demographic trends and market potential. The company then turned to ArcGIS Pro to spatially analyze existing conditions and create the master plan’s attractive maps and graphics. It produced more detailed blueprints for specific areas of Battle Creek as well. For Columbia Avenue, an aging auto-oriented corridor in Battle Creek, Houseal Lavigne Associates made a detailed corridor plan that recommends explicit actions to take to improve the area. It also employed Esri CityEngine to come up with a thorough redevelopment concept for the lakefront area near a key intersection of the community.

Battle Creek’s new master plan—which places strong emphasis on land use and development in a postrecession era—is a prime example of geodesign in practice, underlining how important map-based analysis and comprehensive graphics are to the future of planning. Using geospatial data more prominently than it ever has before, Battle Creek can now more easily identify its most pressing issues and determine the best solutions to them.

Shortly after Battle Creek adopted the new master plan, the city reengaged Houseal Lavigne Associates to develop an interactive model that would allow city leaders to visualize various ways the redevelopment plan could work based on the master plan’s recommendations. Using Esri CityEngine again, Houseal Lavigne Associates created a web scene that detailed the land use for various place types—e.g., downtown, commercial corridor, and residential neighborhood—outlined in the master plan. This gives the city a good idea of how it could change in the future.

The entire project, underlaid with GIS and spatial analytics, is fostering a holistic approach to planning and redevelopment in Battle Creek. The master plan takes into account the unique appearance and built character of distinct areas and examines how planning will affect different districts within the community. And the web scene is being put to good use. Currently, the city’s economic development agency, Battle Creek Unlimited, is employing it to promote the area’s full potential and market available properties to prospective buyers and business owners.

Port NOLA Enters a New Era with Enterprise GIS

The Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) in Louisiana is a modern multimodal gateway for global commerce and an in-demand cruise port that delivers seamless, integrated logistics solutions among river, rail, and road. As one of the United States’ most intermodal seaports, Port NOLA has been experiencing tremendous growth in the cargo and cruise industries, which has put additional demand on aging infrastructure.

With enterprise GIS, the Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) can identify gaps in its data, analyze complex operational and land-use questions, and make truly data-driven decisions.

In April 2017, the port embarked on a plan to implement enterprise GIS for its critical infrastructure. But it needed technical assistance with developing, integrating, and maintaining the technology. Port NOLA solicited proposals and chose Environmental Science Services, Inc.—known as Es2—to set up ArcGIS Enterprise, which Port NOLA is now using to support its mission to drive regional economic prosperity by maximizing the flow of international trade and commerce.

With enterprise GIS, Port NOLA can now analyze complex operational and land-use questions and make truly data-driven decisions—something that would not have been possible before implementing GIS. Previously disparate data sources are now combined and analyzed to identify gaps in the data.

“GIS is enabling more efficient management of critical infrastructure and analysis of key issues facing the port,” said Amelia Pellegrin, Port NOLA’s director of sustainable development.

One of the most pivotal components of this project was that Es2 deployed GIS in the field. The Esri partner used Collector for ArcGIS and Suvery123 for ArcGIS to develop configured apps that employees in the port’s maintenance and operations departments can use to increase their efficiency when conducting inspections, performing maintenance, and making repairs. Es2 also employed Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS to develop web-based apps that real estate management personnel now use to inventory all available Port NOLA properties. Not only does this help them manage the port’s current assets, but it also enables them to analyze properties that could potentially be acquired.

Enterprise GIS is already demonstrating its value for solving operational problems within the port’s existing footprint, and its potential for evaluating expansion opportunities is limitless. With ArcGIS Enterprise now in full use, Port NOLA has launched a new era of modernization and efficiency.

In New Zealand, Fieldays Gets a Comprehensive Site Plan and a Great Visitor Experience

Each June, the Mystery Creek Events Centre in Hamilton, New Zealand, hosts Fieldays, the largest agricultural event in the southern hemisphere. For three days, more than 130,000 visitors and roughly 1,000 exhibitors descend on the center to see demonstrations of the latest agricultural technology, participate in competitions, watch live shows, do some shopping, and indulge in chef tastings.

Visitor app
The visitor app allowed users to calculate how long it would take to get to particular exhibitors, whether they were located indoors or outside.

The event site covers 114 hectares (280 acres) of land and includes a network of permanent and temporary roads and buildings and a vast area for exhibitor sites, which are typically tented. To help with planning, setup, and event management, Mystery Creek needed an accurate site plan for the space. So a couple years ago, the center turned to GPS-it, which made the first truly spatial dataset of the site. It includes everything from imagery, contours, roads, and buildings to individual exhibitor sites, car parks, toilets, coffee carts, and first aid stations.

GPS-it then used Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS to develop a web app that Mystery Creek staff employ to plan the layout of the event site. The app allows staff to view proposed site plans overlaid on various imagery datasets that GPS-it collected both during previous events and when nothing was happening at the center. This helps Mystery Creek staff verify that the layout of the Fieldays site fits the permanent infrastructure, including roads; buildings; and underground services for telecommunications, power, and sewage.

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Fieldays in 2018, Mystery Creek commissioned GPS-it to create a new visitor app as well. The company used AppStudio for ArcGIS to build the mobile app and deliberately designed it to be very map-centric. Using ArcGIS Desktop, GPS-it’s GIS experts created a network dataset that enables users to easily navigate the event site. They can even calculate how to get to particular exhibitors, regardless of whether they’re indoors or outdoors.

The app was hugely successful. It was downloaded more than 34,000 times, elevating it to the second most downloaded app in the App Store in the New Zealand region during the event. Additionally, the mobile app captured more than three million location-based metrics, such as which exhibitors were designated as favorites by users, what routes were being calculated the most, and whose exhibitor listings got viewed most often. Both GPS-it and Mystery Creek staff are now analyzing these results to better understand visitor behaviors and needs.

GPS-it and Mystery Creek are continuing to employ the power of the ArcGIS platform to make Fieldays a great experience for staff, visitors, and exhibitors alike. Exciting upgrades are already under way for the upcoming 2019 event.

With Fresh Street-Level Data, the City of Johns Creek Saves Years of Work

The City of Johns Creek, Georgia, is somewhat of a tech role model for local governments. Since its founding in 2006, the city has prided itself on providing open data and smart solutions to its more than 76,000 residents.

Street-level imagery
Using computer vision technology, Mapillary automatically detects objects in street-level imagery. By combining multiple detections, the company is able to triangulate the location of each object on the map.

With those goals at the forefront of its agenda, the Johns Creek GIS team set out in 2016 to find the freshest geospatial data available. This brought the city to Mapillary and its computer vision technology.

The GIS team was eager to build a comprehensive dataset of city assets, but manually capturing the location data would have been expensive and time-consuming. Now, Johns Creek can upload street-level imagery to the Mapillary platform—which includes ArcGIS integration—and automatically extract map data from each image using computer vision, a subset of artificial intelligence (AI) that involves the automated understanding of digital images.

To help gather all this data, Johns Creek actively encourages residents to get involved in mapping their community—especially since all they need is a smartphone plus the Mapillary mobile app, or an action camera along with one of the company’s other uploading options. Participating in Johns Creek’s #CompleteTheMap campaign, city workers and residents have mapped almost 350 miles of their city. The app geotags the images using the phone’s internal GPS and then uploads them directly to the Mapillary platform.

Mapillary’s computer vision technology then automatically extracts 1,500 different classes of street signs and their GPS locations from the images. Having a complete and up-to-date inventory of street signs is important, since they are key to road safety but require constant upkeep. As Johns Creek’s chief data officer Nick O’Day pointed out, using Mapillary saved the city years of painstaking work collecting street sign data manually.

“If we were to go out and try to capture all of these street sign locations across the city, we would have to carry a GPS unit and collect each point one by one, which would take a long time and cost a lot of money,” O’Day said.

Having up-to-date street-level imagery allows city workers to respond to issues faster than ever before. They can look at Mapillary images on their computers first, which often saves crews from having to go out into the field to investigate reports. The city is now usually able to fix issues in a single trip.

Johns Creek is also an early adopter of Mapillary’s map features, 42 additional object classes—such as fire hydrants, benches, and streetlights—that get automatically extracted from street-level imagery. They are available as shapefiles to use as feature layers in the ArcGIS platform.

Anyone can explore images of Johns Creek as well via the Johns Creek DataHub. The city built the open data site using ArcGIS for Developers, a complete mapping and location analytics platform for developers, along with the rich sources of mappable information in ArcGIS Online.

Working with Mapillary allows the City of Johns Creek to keep its geospatial records up-to-date while saving time and money and encouraging citizen engagement.

Esri partners represent a rich ecosystem of organizations around the world that work together to amplify The Science of Where by extending the ArcGIS platform and implementing it in distinct ways to solve specific problems. Their products and services range from configured apps, add-ons, widgets, and custom-built solutions to complete ArcGIS system implementations, content, and hardware. Search for and discover partners, solutions, and services that meet your needs.

Make Game Maps with CityEngine

Posted by on Nov 21, 2018 in Blog Article, HLA Blog

You know those times when you’re just enjoying a normal day and minding your own business and out of nowhere, Devin Lavigne from Houseal Lavigne sends you an Email with some content that just simply blows your mind!
Well, that’s exactly what happened to me last week and I just knew I had to write a blog post about it and hope that I am somehow able to do this justice.

Houseal Lavigne is a Chicago based professional consulting firm specializing in all areas of Community Planning, Urban Design, and Economic Development.
One of the many reasons why we love them, is because they have been using CityEngine in their projects pretty much since day one.
You might have seen us showcase their CityEngine work on the Oshkosh Corporation World Headquarters…

Oshkosh Corporation World Headquarters

…or the Battle Creek Master Plan.

Battle Creek Master Plan

As amazing as this already is, this blog post today is not about any of that, this blog post is about the team based action game “Counter-Strike” (yes, you read that correctly!).

I’m going to wager a guess that a good percent of you reading this article have had an introduction to this game at some point in your life. My introduction to it was in my University dorm in Melbourne in 2005 – which almost caused me to throw my Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop out of the window numerous times in a bout of frustration.

What are you talking about?

So, what does all this gaming talk have to do with Houseal Lavigne and ESRI? Well, just like Taisha circa 2005, the employees at Houseal Lavigne like to ring in the weekend with a little bit of team based action game fun.

“To let off some steam and stress from the week, we play Counter-Strike on most Friday afternoons. We create some teams, or team up against some AI bots, and spend an hour or so shooting each other. We like to say we take our work seriously, but not ourselves seriously. So, when deadlines are met at the end of the week, we all join a private server – and everyone has some fun.”Devin LavignePrincipal and Co-Founder at Houseal Lavigne

…and so, to make the whole thing even more fun, Devin and Nik Davis worked together to surprise their office with a new Counter-Strike map:
The Houseal Lavigne Office in Downtown Chicago.

This map is so incredibly detailed and although I have never personally visited the Houseal Lavigne office (feel free to invite me for some game time, Devin!), I feel as though I now know exactly how the office and downtown Chicago look.

To give you an idea, here are some examples of parts of the city as seen in Google Street View vs. the map created by Devin and Nik.

Real View
Game Level View
Real View
Game Level View

How was it made?

In case you’re wondering how this Counter-Strike map masterpiece was created, here are a few details for you.

The interiors were predominantly created in Trimble SketchUp and the exteriors and urban environment was made with CityEngine and ArcGIS (obviously, as if you would use anything else!).

We used the City of Chicago’s GIS data to create a Downtown massing model. Then we used CityEngine’s viewshed analysis to thin the number of visible buildings (critical for fast game play) down from 738 to about 100.Devin LavignePrincipal and Co-Founder at Houseal Lavigne

How was it rendered?

The whole thing was rendered in real-time in Valve’s Hammer Editor.

Some of you reading might wonder why this wasn’t done in Unreal Engine. After all, this seems like the perfect use-case and this is one of the workflows that I have been going on and on about heavily in recent times. The simple answer to that, is that this map has been years in the making. Long before we even announced our collaboration with Unreal Engine, let alone had plans for the workflow. It’s so great that Devin and Nik managed to get their CityEngine models into Hammer though.

I was curious as to how they did it and just in case you are too: it was brought in by way of SketchUp and some very buggy 5-year-old plugins.

Key Takeaways

In my opinion, Houseal Lavigne is a wonderful example of a company who puts staying on top of tech advancements high on their priority list and doesn’t shy away from trying out new tools. Devin has created some amazing CityEngine rules and tenaciously taught himself how to script in CGA, despite not having a background in software development. To me, this is a testament that CityEngine can be used by everyone and although the learning curve might be a little steep at times, there is so much potential to unlock.

So, if you’re not already a CityEngine user, then download your free trial today (like, right now!) and become the next Devin Lavigne or Nik Davis!


Taisha Fabricius

Taisha holds degrees in Geomatic Engineering and Arts from the University of Melbourne, as well as an MBA from RWTH Aachen/University of St. Gallen focusing on technology and innovation. Taisha works as the R&D Marketing Manager at the ESRI R&D Center in Zürich and is interested in all things related to technology, sustainability, art and the entertainment industry.CONNECT:    

Oshkosh Reimagines Lakefront and Wins Back Basketball in the Process

Oshkosh Reimagines Lakefront and Wins Back Basketball in the Process

Posted by on Aug 31, 2017 in Headlines, HLA Blog | No Comments
We are thrilled to be featured on ESRI’s Blog and glad they picked up our work in Oshkosh on the Imagine Oshkosh Center City Master Plan. Matt Ball’s article effectively captures how Houseal Lavigne used CityEngine’s procedural modeling and 3D visualization to spur the imagination and trigger successful economic development. “Sometimes a compelling 3D visualization of what your city can become spurs an immediate redevelopment opportunity. That was certainly the case in Oshkosh, Wisconsin where creative planning efforts and a resurgent local economy are bringing buzz back to what has been a sleepy downtown.” Read the full article here: Explore and interact with the 3D model here:

A 3D Model Provides the Vision to Combat Blight

Posted by on Aug 30, 2017 in Blog Article, HLA Blog

Oshkosh reimagines lakefront and wins back basketball in the process.

Key takeaways

  • 3D visualization captures the community imagination to spur a revitalization effort.
  • Sports give a community an identity to rally around.
  • A shared vision speeds renewal plans.

Sometimes a compelling 3D visualization of what your city can become spurs an immediate redevelopment opportunity. That was certainly the case in Oshkosh, Wisconsin where creative planning efforts and a resurgent local economy are bringing buzz back to what has been a sleepy downtown.

The city was well underway on an Imagine Oshkosh master plan when an opportunity to bid on the National Basketball Association (NBA) development team for the Milwaukee Bucks captivated the community.

“Because of the Bucks opportunity, comments we heard from the community and ideas we were developing in the greater plan coalesced into a visualization of the Sawdust District,” said Darryn Burich, planning director at the City of Oshkosh. “The visualization of this entertainment district gave us something to sell the project to decision makers and the community. It got so many people energized.”

That energy turned into action. The city won the bid for the basketball team, which prompted the demolition of empty falling-down factories and the quick construction of a sports facility to house the newly named Wisconsin Herd. The project has gone from a bid in January 2017 to the realization of the Oshkosh Arena, where an enthusiastic community is excited to watch basketball games by the end of the year.

The Sawdust District
The initial development concept for the Sawdust District waterfront area was created by Nik Davis, principal of Houseal Lavigne, and the team was able to bring that concept to life.

The benefits of procedural modeling

Houseal Lavigne uses Esri’s CityEngine software to create and share their 3D visualizations. The call for 3D in city planning has been steadily increasing because it communicates plans very clearly.

“Having a bird’s eye view is important,” said Burich. “It’s a better view when you’re trying to get people excited about the future.”

Thankfully, the tools to realize these immersive and compelling views of the future have become much easier to create.

“In the past, we might have been able to do one or two concepts,” said Devin Lavigne. “With CityEngine, it’s much easier to make changes. If they ask if the building can be taller or shorter, we can just go into our rules and drag up the buildings or change the style. It’s helped us greatly from an efficiency standpoint. For the same amount a client would pay us to do one or two renderings, we can now do five or six.”

CityEngine uses procedural modeling that is based on computer generated architecture rules that can be manipulated to control the size, proportions, textures and look of buildings, streets, and vegetation to create realistic models on a citywide scale. Users can change or add to the rules as much as needed for new designs.

“CityEngine has really helped us with procedural modeling with what you call “The Entourage” in a 3D environment,” said Lavigne. “If you’re doing a plan, the buildings, the site, the parking, that’s the plan. The Entourage is what brings it to life, the trees, the cars, the people, the street furniture.”

The preparation of the rule set creates a certain overhead at the beginning, but then the model can be created in a small fraction of the time as manual modeling. The rules-based approach also provides quick calculations, such as the amount of square footage or the number of parking spots, which are details that are often defined as ratios of building size to parking slots in the zoning requirements.

“We’re designing with tools that give us real feedback,” said Lavigne. “Inside of CityEngine, you start drawing and those things are calculating on the fly. I have a rule that generates parking lots, the driving aisles, the landscaped islands. I drag a building, and I drag a parking lot, and then I can start designing with the ratio right there.”

Another benefit revolves around the concept of libraries, where building styles or vegetation types are grouped together to easily swap the look across many different design parameters.

“CityEngine comes with plant libraries to quickly load plants into your model,” said Lavigne. “One of the variables is the Landscape Zone, the areas that tree and plant species can grow and thrive. The globe is striped with these zones. We can take a parking lot and put it in Chicago or Miami, and with just a click we get the right species from maple trees to palm trees.”

Trees are grouped in libraries in CityEngine
Vegetation is highlighted here, showing how trees are grouped in libraries that can be quickly changed depending on growing zone.

Dusty past

Like many Midwestern cities, Oshkosh, Wisconsin has seen industrial jobs come and go. The city was settled where the Fox River enters Lake Winnebago from the west. Navigable waterways, water power, and access to the northern pine forests made it ideal for lumber mills. It was known as the “Sawdust Capital of the World” at one time, given the rapid expansion from 11 mills in the city in 1860 to a peak of 47 saw mills and 11 shingle mills in 1874.

When the pine forests were depleted, several furniture factories took their place. The Buckstaff Company manufactured school furniture for more than 160 years on a prime site in the corner fronting both the river and the lake, finally closing its doors in 2011.

While these wood-oriented manufacturing jobs are gone, some of the abandoned factories remained, slowly deteriorating and making the city look like its better days were behind it.

“It was a blighted empty factory sitting on one of our main traffic corridors coming into the downtown,” said Burich. “The community urged us to do something, so we went forward and created a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district to help spur redevelopment on the site.”

The visualization helped open people’s eyes. People started to say, ‘this could really work here, it could actually happen and it would be really amazing.’John Houseal,principal and cofounder of Houseal Lavigne Associates and project director for Imagine Oshkosh

Seeing renewal

The area still has strong ties to manufacturing. In fact, the city is on a resurgence thanks to Oshkosh Corporation and their truck manufacturing jobs. The company recently won the US military’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) contract with an initial $6 billion award that could grow to nearly $50 billion and 55,000 vehicles. The JLTV will partially replace the AM General Humvee, better known as the Hummer.

As part of an effort to match the look of the city to their resurgence, the city hired the planning firm Houseal Lavigne Associates to reimagine a new future for the downtown and waterfront area.

“Over the past 20 years we’ve done a number of things in our downtown,” said Burich. “We’ve created a world-class Riverwalk, we de-industrialized an area between the University and the downtown for housing, we reconstructed Main Street, we put a public park and amphitheater downtown. All these things are coming together to make Oshkosh a more livable place.”

Houseal Lavigne helped the city respond to the Milwaukee Bucks opportunity by crafting a plan for the Sawdust District, a multi-use entertainment district concept. The initial plan included a basketball team practice facility, a larger arena, and a 250,000-square foot office building. Part of the goal is to land jobs close to lifestyle amenities, a pattern you typically only see in larger communities.

“The city wanted to put this blighted piece back into the fabric of their core,” says Devin Lavigne, principal and cofounder of Houseal Lavigne Associates. “It wasn’t a long drawn out planning process, we met the need for a vision of what this property could become.”

“The visualization helped open people’s eyes,” says John Houseal, principal and cofounder of Houseal Lavigne Associates and project director for Imagine Oshkosh. “People started to say, ‘this could really work here, it could actually happen and it would be really amazing.’ Before that, people had been driving by the site for decades, and just saying ‘that’s a real eyesore’. They just couldn’t see its potential.”

The Sawdust District visualization
Houseal Lavigne uses Esri’s CityEngine software to create and share their 3D visualizations.

Locking on a winner

Oshkosh has a long history of basketball, and many in the community hope to see a dominant team similar to what they have had in the past.

The Oshkosh All-Stars played in the National Basketball League from 1937-49 before the NBL and the Basketball Association of America merged to become the NBA. Oshkosh reached the NBL’s championship finals five times and won it in 1941 and 1942.

The Oshkosh Arena is going up on the south side of the river, an area that holds many old industrial sites that are in disrepair or are abandoned. The city is looking to redevelop the abandoned sites and to help businesses relocate through incentives. In their place, they would like to encourage mixed use developments with both housing and businesses.

“Because of the visualization that allowed us to land the Bucks deal, we’re seeing a lot of people wanting to buy property down there,” said Burich. “It has really been a catalyst and hopefully it will continue.”

Web scene of the Sawdust District

Fly through an interactive 3D web scene of Oshkosh’s Sawdust District  plan here

The CityEngine Web Viewer is a web application for viewing 3D city scenes and other 3D scenes in a browser without the need to install a plugin.


Matt Ball

Matt Ball is a writer in the strategic content group at Esri where he writes about users making a difference with GIS. He first encountered GIS while working at the Geological Society of America where a HyperCard-driven fieldtrip app captivated his imagination by conveying the inner workings of our planet. This glimpse of the future was further cemented in 1998 by Al Gore’s vision of the Digital Earth. He has chased this inevitable app-based and augmented reality future with stints as editor of GeoWorld magazine and as publisher at V1 Media where he launched several publications, including Sensors & Systems and Informed Infrastructure. He’s thrilled to be much closer to the users that are creating this digital reality, and at the company that is pushing the hardest to realize what’s possible with the geospatial toolset.

John Dillinger, Johnny Depp, & John Houseal

Posted by on Nov 16, 2015 in Blog Article, HLA Blog, Uncategorized | No Comments
What do 1920s gangster John Dillinger, actor Johnny Depp, and firm co-founder John Houseal have in common? This week, Houseal Lavigne Associates moves into its new home on the second floor the Randolph Tower, located on the corner of Randolph and Wells within Downtown Chicago. Here are some fun facts about the historic skyscraper, formerly known as the Steuben Club Building.

It’s a cathedral in the sky.

The Steuben Club Building (1929) was designed in the gothic revival style, an architectural flavor that became re-popularized in the early 20th century. The style co-opted medieval design elements and applied them to the skyscraper in a manner that emphasized verticality. The 45 story building contains pointed arches, gargoyles, quatrefoils, and stylized buttresses commonly found in cathedrals.

It’s a symbol of a German-American patriotism.

German-Americans migrated to Chicago in droves in the 19th and early 20th century. During and in the years immediately after World War I, however, many Americans questioned their loyalty to the United States. The Steuben Club was formed to provide a respectable social and civic organization for German-Americans. Needing a distinctive headquarters, the group financed construction of the Steuben Club Building, which was completed in 1928. It contained an ornate dining room, recreation facilities, office space, a swimming pool, and more.

Its distinctive shape was influenced by Chicago’s landmark 1923 zoning code.

The Steuben Club is essentially a spyglass-shaped tower above a large box. Afraid of creating dark canyons, the City passed a 1923 zoning code to regulate the height and volume of buildings. This had a significant effect on the design of Downtown Chicago, introducing the usage of setbacks and slender towers above the main mass of the building. Take a closer look at the historic skyscrapers within the North Loop, such as the Jewelers’ Building (1927), Wrigley Building (1924), or Mather Tower (1928). All have this “base + tower” massing with a fairly consistent cornice line.

It was a hangout for the prominent 1920s gangster, John Dillinger.

Dillinger once dated one of the coat check-girls who worked at the Steuben Nightclub, and he was a regular in the building during their courtship.

It’s a movie star.

The building’s former Steuben Nightclub was depicted in the 2009 film “Public Enemies,” with Johnny Depp staring as John Dillinger.

It’s a fantastic example of adaptive re-use and is now the home of Houseal Lavigne Associates.

By the end of the 20th century the building had fallen into disrepair, with chunks of terracotta falling off of the façade onto the “L” tracks. Its unique floorplate and lack of modern amenities made it difficult to market. However, with the resurgence of interest in living downtown, the building was ideal for conversion into residences, with office and dining uses on the lower two floors (and Houseal Lavigne occupying part of the second floor). A $148.2 million dollar rehab completed in 2012 has brought back the building’s glory, and today it stands as proud as it did in 1929. Photo 1 (Sustainable Chicago)The Randolph Tower, formerly the Steuben Club Building, is one of Chicago’s most distinctive 1920s gothic revival skyscrapers.   Photo 2 (Sustainable Chicago)The historic building utilizes many gothic design elements, such as quatrefoils, buttresses, gargoyles, and pointed arches.   Photo 3 (Yo Chicago)By the end of the 20th century, the Steuben Club Building fell into extreme disrepair. Millions of dollars were spent restoring the terracotta cladding.   Photo 4This advertisement shows the Steuben Club Building as it looked upon opening. The 1920s advertisement is for Russwin Hardware, which supplied door hardware for the building.   Photo 5 (Universal Pictures)The Steuben Club Building was a regular hangout of gangster John Dillinger. A 2009 movie, Public Enemies, featured Johnny Depp as Dillinger and depicted the building.

You’re Doing it Wrong

Posted by on Jun 10, 2015 in Blog Article, Project Showcase | No Comments

What makes an expert?

This morning I was at the gym taking a swim. I was in a lane next to a kid, maybe 12-13 years old, who was getting coached by a young woman. As a former collegiate water polo player and high school swim coach, I noticed the woman’s coaching methods were not working for this kid. She wasn’t offering anything constructive to fix his form, and I thought to myself, “You’re doing it wrong.”

Being good at something does not necessarily make you an expert. As my husband and I watched my beloved Golden State Warriors take on the Cavs in the NBA finals, my husband mentioned how weird it was that Mark Jackson was commentating on the game. Just the year earlier he was coaching the team, and he was mediocre at best (he did, however, lead the Warriors to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years, but he also had the Splash Brothers). Jackson was a great player, but as a coach, he couldn’t lead his time to the finals. As a coach, he was doing it wrong.

Using sports analogies got me thinking: what make a planner an expert? Planners generally go to planning school where they learn about common issues, and learn strategies to solve these issues by applying planning theories. Does getting an “A” in an Economic Development class mean you’re an expert? Robert Moses and Pruitt-Igoe have shown that past “experts” did it wrong. A planner that knows a lot about planning theory and was academically successful is NOT an expert. Planning, to be successful, takes a team. We rely on community members, city staff and officials, and motivated stakeholders and community leaders. Much like Steph Curry needs Clay Thompson to be the Splash Brothers and Steve Kerr has effectively used all the players on his team, planners need a team of people, which should include other planners, to be successful. Expertise comes from a broad understanding of issues and the exchange of ideas for possible solutions.

The swim coach at the gym should have watched how other coaches work with different swimmers. She should have consulted with the kid’s parents to understand the best way to communicate with him. She cannot be a good coach without having a community of people helping her understand what coaching techniques could make this specific boy a good swimmer. Similarly with planning, without out a community-based approach that combines known planning strategies, we could not be considered experts; we’d be doing it wrong.

And on that note:


Ticket that @s$#%&, not the cyclist…

Posted by on Jun 4, 2015 in Blog Article, HLA Blog, Uncategorized | No Comments

There is a renewed commitment within cities across the country to make it safer and more convenient to get around on a bike. Dedicated on-street bike lanes are an important component of this effort, together with strategies that include bike sharing programs, sharrows, better bike safety and awareness programs, and so on. However, once bike lanes are provided for cyclists, are they property protected for their intended use?

It is not uncommon for police to issue warnings or tickets to cyclists and skaters for riding in areas where such activity is prohibited. In fact, the ticketing of cyclists is on the rise as the popularity or urban cycling increases. However, is there a rise in the number of tickets being issued to those who obstruct the bike lanes? Maybe cities should focus their efforts on ticketing those that prevent the bike lanes from being used as intended.

In this short video, Casey Neistat humorously and painfully makes a good point regard the ticketing priorities of cities and the challenge of navigating the unintended urban obstacle course.

Enjoy…and thank you Casey.


Really?! Sidewalk Rage IV

Posted by on Mar 15, 2015 in Blog Article, HLA Blog | No Comments

Nearly every single trip made by nearly every single person on the planet begins and ends with walking. I myself left car-centric California for the (mostly) pedestrian-oriented streets of Chicago. Since I gave up my car, I walk, take transit, and ride a bike to get around the city. While walking is not my sole (see what I did there?) form of transportation, it really irks me when the actions of others not only inconvenience me but also put me in danger. Thus, I continue the “Ped-Peeves” series. You can also read Sidewalk Rage I, Sidewalk Rage II, and Sidewalk Rage III.

Ped-Peeve #10 – Double Wides.

Although I don’t even have a baby, let alone many babies that would necessitate a multi-baby stroller, my childless self believes that double wide strollers are completely unacceptable on city sidewalks. And it appears that I am not alone on this topic (google: “double wide evil”).

The average sidewalk, per ADA requirements, are 5 feet wide. Yet most double-wide strollers take up the majority of this space. Take, for example, the popular double-wide Bob stroller (the single-wide is a favorite amongst my mommy running friends). This smooth rolling, baby-pushing mechanism comes in at cool 31 inches in width. That’s over half the sidewalk. Add in the necessary buffers so as not to roll into traffic or parkways, and you’ve got complete stroller sidewalk takeover. Then factor into the equation that the mother/father/caretaker is overseeing two young children, managing the stress of daily life, and navigating busy city streets, and it’s a recipe for, “I will mow down anyone in my way!” behavior. This means that must I either jump into the streets or someone’s yard to avoid being steamrolled as a double wide comes by. Now I understand the need to transport your tots, but may I suggest a double-long stroller?


 Babies: adorable. Double-wides: evil.


Ped-Peeve #11 – Unshoveled Sidewalks.

Dear neighbors and business owners that don’t shovel your sidewalks: I hate you. Maybe “hate” is too strong a word; nevertheless, given the vast amounts of snow that have covered the Midwest and completely buried Boston, sidewalk shoveling is essential. In Chicago, under Municipal Code 4-4-310 & 10-8-180, property owners and occupants are responsible for keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice. Sadly, many property owners do comply and the code is rarely enforced.

Many of my neighbors and myself rely on walking and transit as our primary way to get around, and without a wide, clear path through snow and ice, the simple act of being a pedestrian becomes a difficult and dangerous endeavor. But for me, it’s not simply the unshoveled sidewalks that bother me, but a greater issue of people not being connected to their neighbors or neighborhood.

Sidewalks are public space. They are a place where I run into friends and greet neighbors. I’ve rarely, if ever, have seen any of the people that live in the houses with unshoveled sidewalks. This is because these residents who live in million dollar homes amidst humble multi-flats like mine generally commute and run errands by car. They go from their house to their garage, never setting foot on the sidewalk in front of their home. They do not see the kids going to school who are struggling over mounds of built-up snow, don’t know the names of the adorable greyhounds that walk past every morning, and have no idea that they have shut themselves off from the neighborhood. Being a pedestrian and property owner means being part of a community and understanding that having shoveled sidewalks matters to all of us.


Shoveled and unshoveled sidewalk obstacle course.