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Amateur urban planners use DALL-E to re-imagine cities without cars

You probably know the DALL-E application best for the strange meme material it generates, but it has genuinely useful applications too. Recently, amateur urban planners have been using it to re-imagine cities designed for pedestrians, and the results are captivating.

DALL-E is where many of us go to waste time, right?

A dull afternoon at work is made that little bit brighter by generating absurd memes like Shrek at the strip club, or Pokémon in the Love Island villa. That isn’t what we’re talking about here though.

If you’re currently a little confused, allow us to explain. DALL-E is an open source AI software created by a company called OpenAI.

Currently in the beta phase of its second iteration, (DALL-E 2) it is best described as a text-to-image generation tool that produces artwork based on user-inputted descriptions.

The platform we initially mentioned is DALL-E mini, a watered down version of the tech created for the public by Click here to see just how bizarre the results can be.

While 90% of DALL-E creations you’ll see on Twitter and Reddit are a blend of hilarious and ridiculous, a user called @betterstreetsai has been putting the machine learning system to good use.

Zach Katz, a 28-year-old artist, musician, and amateur urban planner has created a website and matching Twitter handle where he shares re-imagined visualisations of American cities – ones that cater to pedestrians and not cars.

Images of busy traffic intersections, often taken from GPS apps like Google Earth’s street view, are fed through the DALL-E 2 and accompanied by a bunch of text prompts.

The results, show teaming urban areas and roadways purged of traffic and replaced by serene walkways and grassy plains. Best of all, they’re realistic prospects from an urban planning perspective too.

Below are two alternate versions of Canal Street in New York that closely mimic the original, but with stretching bicycle lanes, plants, and paths for people to enjoy at a leisurely pace… without the revving and pungent smell of petrol engines.

‘I’m still figuring it out,’ said Katz, who now lives in New York after six months in Amsterdam.

‘It definitely does take a good amount of work to get a good picture. Part of it is just getting DALL-E to make something that isn’t totally fucked up. Sometimes it will just make a deep canyon in the middle of the street thinking it’s a water fountain.’

Nevertheless, when DALL-E gets it right, the results are pretty special. Even Brooklyn’s Queen’s Expressway has received the green treatment and shows a spot people would genuinely enjoy to visit. Katz is fielding requests on Twitter now, if you’ve got any burning ideas.

One recent content submitter, Nicole Aptekar, has attended Department of Transportation community meetings, and states that these re-imaginings are ‘powerful’ tools to bring to the table.

‘If you’re following the account, shove this in your mayor’s face. They need to see this,’ said Katz. ‘I’d like to let the images speak for themselves.’


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