We’ve all seen the maps that show Florida being consumed by rising sea levels. But many of us still underestimate the impact of climate change because we can’t actually visualize its effects on the places we care about. In just a few hours at the TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017 Hackathon, James Butler, Caitlin Squyres and Florian Carls put together CityConnect, a tool that lets people see flood levels for the City of Cambridge using Google’s Street View.
Butler, a startup founder with a passion for city planning, came up with the idea after watching his city struggle to explain how future flooding would impact residents. CityConnect aggregates data to build a 3D model of flooding at the street level. The team built two models, one to show the depth of water during a 100-year flood in the year 2035 and another to show depth during a 100-year flood in the year 2070.
Residents can actually see flood levels lined up next to their homes so they can determine what parts of their property might end up underwater when disaster occurs. This allows people to take pragmatic steps like repositioning electric meters or reinforcing seals on windows. Visualizing the impact of climate change on your own home makes the changes personal.
“If you hand someone Google Earth, the first thing they do is go to their address,” noted Squyres in an interview after her demo.
CityConnect modeled Cambridge for their project but the same process could be repeated for any other city. Unfortunately the project isn’t online yet, but the team plans to work on this and a VR implementation in the future that would make it possible to walk down a flooded street.
Beyond VR, IBM Watson could also be used to set up a multi-language warning system if CityConnect added in stream gauge data. Butler told me that he plans to present the team’s work at an Alewife zoning board meeting next week to put the hack to real use.