Urban Canvas: Urban Planning Software

New Software Allows Planners To Visualize Urban Spaces

Paul Waddell, Professor of City and Regional Planning


Fletcher Foti, Eddie Janowicz, Conor Henley



Project Description

Urban Canvas, a powerful software-based simulator for planning and analyzing urban development created by Berkeley-based software company Synthicity, founded and led by Paul Waddell, Professor and Chair of City and Regional Planning at Berkeley, has gone into wide release after being acquired by 3D software giant Autodesk.

Waddell began Synthicity in late 2012 with a team that included Fletcher Foti, then a Berkeley PhD student, and Eddie Janowicz and Conor Henley, alumni of Berkeley’s Masters in City Planning program, among others, to bring research in urban planning, analysis, and visualization to commercial scale.  In April 2014, Synthicity was selected from a field of nearly 200 applicants as one of six startup companies to participate in San Francisco’s inaugural Entrepreneurs in Residence Program. The program brings together private sector technology startups and city departments to explore innovative solutions to civic challenges.

Synthicity grew out of Waddell’s development of UrbanSim in the mid-1990’s — a software-based simulation system for supporting planning and analysis of urban development, now widely used by metropolitan planning organizations and other local and regional agencies around the world.  Autodesk's Urban Canvas complements the analytical capability of UrbanSim by providing a highly visual and intuitive platform for users to combine design and analysis in a fluid 3D environment.

Using desktop software and cloud-based data resources, Autodesk Urban Canvas enables planning professionals to collaboratively edit and share urban data, develop and evaluate alternative scenarios and phasing, and rapidly generate 3D building models for proposed projects in context and for entire metropolitan regions.  A key element in making the system fast and easy to use is the incorporation of procedural modeling of buildings, which enables users to create typologies of buildings that can be rapidly applied to parcels, considering their zoning restrictions and different architectural styles.  These models also contain data attributes that enable them to be analyzed, whether for assessing the mix of building uses, or the financial feasibility of alternative developments.