Riga: The Water Club exchanges competencies for more resilient Daugava

Project: Augmented Urbans
Augmented Urbans
Published in
7 min readMar 2, 2020


Augmented Urbans playroom at the Riga Technical University campus

Having a common playroom, accessible 24/7 by courtesy of Riga Technical University, allows us to meet up, work on our Augmented Urbans pilot cases in the Riga region and share our stories.

Our unique team sets a perfect example for cross-industry collaboration by bringing real added value to both academic research and real-life practical development of places. Although the members of our team have different goals and reasons to participate in our joint playroom, what unites us all is the willingness to share our skills, eagerness to step into the unknown, and, ultimately — step into the water.

Augmented Urbans Riga team

Our multidisciplinary team includes:

  • New entrepreneurs working with virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D technologies in building design and urban planning
  • Students and academics researching the benefits and application of new technologies in architecture and urban planning — they work on creating small boat “harbours” and connecting university campuses on the banks of river Daugava through waterways, also known as the Knowledge mile
  • Urban planning experts researching the best ways to address resilience in spatial and development plans across Riga region
  • Ogre municipality experts — they use digital tools to find solutions and reduce the flood risk of river Ogre and notify citizens as well as firemen in a timely manner
  • Riga City Council experts sharing their experience in using GIS tools for planning, data collection and analysis, raising public awareness and increasing citizen participation and feedback
  • Kekava municipality experts using augmented reality and digital tools to promote public discussions on the new Spatial Plan
  • Experts of the Riga Planning Region who ensure that in the midst of all these activities we do not forget about a unified vision for cooperation and coherent development in the region
The WaterClub meeting

End of January brought us all together to discuss the progress of our activities and find ways to help each other.

Andris Ločmanis from Riga City Council shared about different GIS tools being tested at the City Development Department:

Riga uses ESRI Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS to map the city’s Investment Plan data and has found it very useful for transforming the typical Excel spreadsheet into something visually appealing and easier to comprehend. The app facilitates understanding by providing information at-a-glance. The configurable web application provides location-aware data visualization and analytics for a real-time operational view of any kind of data (people, services, assets, events etc.). Dashboards feature powerful and flexible layout — all of your data is on a single screen giving context to your data, but on complicating the viewing of it.

ESRI Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS for Riga City Council

Another ESRI powered tool available inside ArcGIS online is the WebApp Builder for creating mapping apps without having to write a single line of code. Although fully integrated with the ArcGIS Platform, someone not an ArcGIS expert can still easily navigate and use the WebApp builder for creating information products. It has plenty of templates for anyone to put their data in and repurpose it for their own case.

Riga City Development Department uses WebApp Builder for mapping changes in neighbourhood service assessment. In an analysis done in 2012, and then followed up upon in 2016, neighbourhoods were analysed in 23 categories including housing, water and sewage, streets, public transportation, playgrounds, waterfronts etc. Riga has also used the tool to gather proposals for planning and improvements, such as to identify streets that would need more safety measures or bicycle lanes.

These proposals could be placed on a map thus providing a simple spatial analysis visualising the most critical areas in the city. For a citizen, tools like these are ready-to-use and do not require a timely procedure going to the City Council to submit a proposal or writing an official letter to the local government. By removing such institutional barriers, we can create a platform that encourages citizen involvement and possibly generate more creative ideas.

Egils Markus, Riga Technical University / Free Architecture (Ltd.), presented his ideas and research on ways to integrate data analysis and IoT systems with architecture and planning for increased efficiency, precision and smarter development.

Difference in precision between drone photogrammetry image and an orthophoto satellite image

For example, in Singapore, a platform called 3DEXPERIENCity® represents the city digitally in 3D, giving the opportunity to model and evaluate possible solutions as well as manage the ongoing operations. It aims to synergise the 3D efforts from various government agencies onto one common platform that allows all public agencies to share different types of information and data and to utilise a common 3D model. A model like this provides a design environment, enables multi-disciplinary stakeholders to play through ‘what if‘ scenarios, and spot patterns and trends in the city environment.

Helsinki 3D city model with building information system

As the first city in the world, Helsinki has simultaneously introduced two 3D city models covering the entire city: a smart semantic city information model and visually high-standard reality mesh model. 3D city model contains property data and thus functions as a building information system.

In Latvia, at the beginning of 2020, we introduced Construction Information System (CIS) to ensure the circulation of electronic construction documentation, public needs for information regarding construction processes, equal approach to making decisions on construction, and single interpretation of laws within the entire territory of Latvia. The system, however, operates as a database and does not provide users with the geospatial context. Following the example from Helsinki would bring our building information system to the next level: the development projects could be viewed in the context of their surroundings. It would provide a starting point for such analysis like the solar energy potential by studying the cities roof and wall surfaces or greenhouse gas emission threats and the environmental impacts of the traffic. There is a wide spectrum of the possibilities for further uses of such a model.

When it comes to smart development and city planning in Latvia, Egils Markus aspires to move us from well-educated guessing towards data-driven decision making. For that, it is crucial to understand that sustainable development means orienting urban design towards people, not cars. In Latvia, however, data is mainly available about car movements, directions and intensity. Free Architecture investigated a possibility to gather data for real-time human flow analysis from mobile operators via smartphones, but the new GDPR law makes it difficult to access and use this data freely. They will not stop here, the city is an organism generating data every single day, and what is needed is a determined team willing to figure out a way to get to this data and make use of it.

Returning to the water

What, if we look at the river as a legal entity?
How about we let the river speak for itself… sort of as to defend itself in a court when its rights are being corrupted?

As we looked at the mapped territories on the banks of river Daugava made by Egons Berzins, Riga Technical University, a peculiar idea was born: from the sustainability viewpoint, our river does not have an advocate. But it should.

A different way to look at the River Daugava — the use of its’ adjacent territories

The problem of a functional zoning map is that most people will not take it in as it requires specific knowledge to be understood and interpreted. It simply does not represent what it means for the river and for the people.

Our ancestors had a deep relationship with river Daugava because it set the stage for life, work and play. Today, the river-people relationship is not as strong. To strengthen the relationship we would want people to be able to step into the map—to walk along the water, to see how it feels and what is missing:

What would make them come back to the river?
And even more so, what would make them step into the water… maybe go kayaking, and a good hour later find themselves outside of the city surrounded by nature?

Or discover a new route for their evening walk? Or even try fishing?

With everything we have learned from each other thus far the question still stands: How are we going to advocate for the river Daugava for it to have eternal life even long after our small interventions touched it?

Text: Elīna Sergejeva, Riga Planning Region
Photos: Augmented Urbans Riga team