Yesterday the new Library of Birmingham opened its doors to the public... in the virtual world of Second Life. A 3D recreation of a planned new library to be finished in 2013, this virtual interactive model is designed to allow the public to visit and comment on the complex directly to the library staff. Produced by the UK-based company Daden Inc , the library staff were trained in how to modify and add to the 3D model of the future library themselves.
Visitors will be able to tour the library along with a chatbot guide, leave "3D post-it" comments on specific areas of the future library, and see different possible configurations of individual rooms. Sounds like a very interesting way to increase public engagement with a planned public space, in a way that is different than just holding a town hall meeting or inviting people to send an email to the staff.
This is not the first effort of this sort of course. Virtual worlds have been used in the past to invite public comment and feedback on planned buildings and public areas. Way back in 2006, a "3d wiki" was created in Second Life to invite public input on a planned park in Queens, NY. That same year, the Aloft hotel chain opened a virtual hotel to invite public input on their newest complex. More recently, in 2010, a replica of the new business school at Rutgers University was built in Second Life and OpenSim to allow faculty and students to visit the facilities before they are completed.