A Tale of Two Cities: Who Owns LA's Digital Twin?

Andrew Fiouzi
Andrew Fiouzi is an editor at dot.LA. He was previously a features writer at MEL Magazine where he covered masculinity, tech and true crime. His work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Long Reads and Vice, among other publications.
A Tale of Two Cities: Who Owns LA's Digital Twin?
Binary code by Christiaan Colen, Los Angeles skyline by Jon Evans, Photo Illustration by Sebastian Miño-Bucheli

In a single paragraph, writer Jose Luis Borges imagined an empire where the science of cartography became so exact that a map of one province occupied the entire city. In 1981, nearly 40 years after Borges penned “On Exactitude in Science, French sociologist Jean Baudrillard referred to Borges’ story as “the finest allegory of simulation,” which he argued no longer applied to “a territory, a referential being or a substance.”

“It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality,” Baudrillard prophetically claimed. "A hyperreal."

Such is the foundation of today’s current stage of hyperreal world-building: that of a city’s digital twin, a real-time, virtual representation of an actual physical system, place or process. According to Louise Wright, Head of Science for Data Science and the Head of Digital Metrology at The National Physical Laboratory in the U.K., an urban digital twin serves as an indistinguishable digital counterpart of a real world physical system by uniting several existing technologies.

What distinguishes a digital twin from “normal” models is that the virtual copy can change along with its source. A model stops being an accurate representation of a physical object once it becomes real, but a digital twin uses artificial intelligence to continuously update the copy making it a perfect imitation of its source. Think of the difference between Waze’s ability to identify traffic in real time versus a standard GPS. The digital twin is perhaps the closest, current example of software imitating physical space.

Marc Strassman has been trying to convince city officials of the importance of creating a digital twin of Los Angeles. The former reporter has been making his pitch over the past few months, creating two different Facebook groups to spread the word. One is dedicated to “the creation and operation of a Unity-based digital replica of the City of Los Angeles.” The other is a campaign for his involvement in the drafting and passage of what he’s calling the ‘Digital Twin & Metaverse Act of 2023,’ “Congressional legislation designed to accelerate the transition to the Metaverse while assuring the human and civil rights of everyone in it.”

Strassman has reached out to city representatives, and they’ve shown interest. “I’m expecting a call sometime this month,” he says. Meanwhile, another project digitizing Los Angeles is already underway.

In June, a community of Los Angeles building owners founded a group called the Better Buildings Challenge, partnering with Urban Digital Twin pioneer Cityzenith to create a real-time virtual representation of Los Angeles.

Initially, Cityzenith’s project will focus on automating the green building retrofit process in Los Angeles’ downtown Bunker Hill neighborhood. According to Michael Jansen, Cityzenith’s CEO, data for the project will come from privately held energy or building management systems, occupancy readings, and architectural information.

“Our focus today is on decarbonization specifically of buildings and of structure,” Jansen says. “In the future, additional modules will address repositioning, economic development, public safety, and other important functions. The master urban digital twin will feature a metaverse of applications, some free, some paid.” He expects to have a digital twin of the Bunker Hill area to show by the end of the year.

The difference between Strassman’s concept of a digital Los Angeles and Cityzenith’s is–as so often is the case with anything web3-adjacent– a question of ownership. Cityzenith approached the private building owners and pitched them on the ways they could profit off the technology; they in turn got the plan in front of the city. Strassman envisions Los Angeles’ digital twin as a joint public-private partnership between the city, private companies, civic organizations and individuals.

Louise Wright explains it’s slightly more complicated than Strassman’s utopic version. “If you owned the twin but didn’t have access to the software to run it, it would be of no use,” she says.“It’s a bit like any other sort of software; I am using Microsoft Outlook under license but I don’t own it in any meaningful sense of the word.”

Jansen tells dot.LA that over the course of its multi-city pilot program–which also includes building digital twins New York City, Las Vegas and Phoenix–Cityzenith will invest up to $250,000 to implement what they stress is a public service.“The master twin is then used by the city for free,” Jansen says, though he admits the company also sells modules to be monetized by private building owners.

By using sensors that measure everything from humidity, temperature, fan speeds, power usage and air quality, Wright says, Cityzenith can create an urban digital twin with the capability to help people manage operations, be they private facilities or public infrastructure projects. “This kind of digital twin is… more about being able to understand the effects of rapidly changing factors that may be interrelated and difficult to predict on the urban system as a whole,” she says.

Jansen argues that Cityzenith’s digital twin also serves as a public safety measure even when owned by private operators; automating a building’s permitting process, for example.“Two different fire departments have approached us to have a digital twin built that they could give their firefighters,” Jansen says. “So that when something happens they can point and click on the building and know the building information they would need before going in.”

If Cityzenith’s project succeeds, Jansen envisions Los Angeles “standardizing operation” to the point where “individual constituents — building owners, campus operators, infrastructure operators — would have their own individual twins that would connect to the master.” The master would be owned by the city, though what branch of the governing agency would be responsible for monitoring and maintaining this massive virtual infrastructure project is TBD.

Strassman, meanwhile, is aware of Cityzenith’s project. “A lot of people are going to be thinking about creating a digital twin soon,” he says. “So, I’m trying to surround the project with a campaign to educate the public as well as the political and economic decision makers participating in it.”

🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.


Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle

Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out

Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities

Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo

SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours

Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch

Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.

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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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