The metaverse, considered the next chapter of the digital world, can be defined as an integrated network of virtual worlds in three dimensions, parallel to the physical world, which connects users interacting through digital avatars, on various platforms, with different websites accessible through from a single browser.
Prior to the Covid-19 epidemic, the metaverse was seen only as an entertainment experience. However, after the pandemic, the idea of the practical application of its concepts arises.
The metaverse represents an alternative world that, in some respects, cannot be adequately represented in the real world and occurs in three stages: (I) digital twins, (II) digital contents, and (III) physical-virtual reality coexistence, or surreality .
Digital twins are high-fidelity digital models and entities that have been duplicated in virtual environments, with all their physical characteristics and functions. The second step focuses on creating the content of the digital twin, after establishing this copy of physical reality. In the third stage, the metaverse can evolve into a self-sustaining virtual world, which coexists and interacts with the physical world, with a high level of autonomy.
The metaverse is, therefore, a tool through which conceptual urban planning and the real vision of the city can occur simultaneously, allowing greater opportunities for modeling and simulation, transforming visions for urban spaces into digital realities, with all the resulting benefits. .
Cities can use the metaverse in many ways, from simple applications to advanced models using technology. Cities in Asia such as Seoul and Shanghai are moving quickly to be the first to capitalize on the emerging metaverse. They chose to develop a strategic plan and start investing in the metaverse, believing that the virtual world will bring benefits such as greater information sharing, more accessible urban services, stronger connections between community members, and a new virtual economy.
The metaverse presents new opportunities for people living in these cities. Community members could, for example, interact “face to face” with licensing department personnel about plans for a given building, in a virtual reality environment, but in the comfort of their own homes or offices.
Seoul, South Korea, has been working to use the metaverse to improve city services, improve administration, and integrate digital platforms to create a truly smart city. In 2021, the city announced it would invest $3.3 million as part of a five-year master plan to provide services to its residents in the metaverse. At Seoul’s “Metaverse 120 Center,” residents will meet avatar public officials in a virtual office for public services previously only available in person at city hall.
Along with the transition of government services to the metaverse, Seoul is introducing a digital tourist zone, which will virtually house some of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. Seoul’s most popular festivals will be held in the metaverse, starting with the traditional Bosingak bell ringing ceremony on New Year’s Eve.
The metaverse will positively contribute to social inclusion, as it allows interaction and connection between city residents, without any obstacles created by distance, geography, gender, race, disability and social status. Users can customize their avatars with only their imagination as a limit. This feature will allow the metaverse to create a more just and sustainable urban society in the virtual world.
While the metaverse can be a fantastic roadmap for local government administrators to improve service delivery and more directly engage with their residents, the first step on that journey is to understand the existing barriers to accessing key technologies and infrastructure, needed to access the metaverse and its benefits.
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