The Future is Now: A Prototype Chatbot for City Planning

Chris Steins
6 min readSep 5, 2023
AI’s interpretation of what a library holding all of a city’s documents looks like.

In an era where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly reshaping industries, governments are no exception. The advent of Generative AI, capable of creating new content like text or images by learning from existing data, offers tantalizing possibilities for enhancing public governance.

A few months ago, I outlined a modest proposal for a customized AI engine trained on public documents that could provide authoritative, interactive responses to a myriad of questions from citizens about city planning, regulations, and other civic matters. Imagine a city where residents get real-time, accurate answers from a state’s website as if conversing with an expert from the relevant department. By leveraging models like ChatGPT, governments could dramatically improve data access, transparency, and efficiency, paving the way for more informed and engaged communities.

The City Planning Chatbot Experiment

I collaborated with Code Studio, an urban design and zoning firm based in Austin, TX, to develop this prototype City Planning Chatbot. We used publicly available information from the City and County of Denver to experiment with this concept.

Disclosure: This effort is not endorsed or supported by the City or County of Denver. I used publicly available information on their website to develop this prototype.

A screenshot of a we browser with a purple and blue background and a text field that reads: “I’m an experimental and UNOFFICIAL chatbot. Ask me anything about planning and zoning in Denver”, and a scrolling box below is sample questions.
Screenshot of the prototype City Planning Chatbot, trained with public data from the City and County of Denver.

Here are some examples of questions I posed to the City Planning Chatbot about zoning in the City of Denver.

Question: What is the allowable height of a fence in a residential zone district?

Chatbot Response: In a residential zone district, the maximum height of a fence when forward of any primary street facing primary structure facade is 4 feet. However, when the fence is located at or behind any primary street facing primary structure facade, the maximum height allowed is 6 feet. This is according to Section 10.5.5.2 of the Denver Zoning Code.

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Chris Steins

I write about the wine & sprits industry, technology, artificial intelligence and travel.