Take a look at this new visualization of the London Underground. You'll notice a few differences from the classic map first drafted by Harry Beck in 1931. You can see the height of the various lines, and where each station intersects. The video is a demo for a new project that aims to visualize the world's cities in 3-D.
Here's another early effort--planes arriving at London's Heathrow Airport:
ViziCities was started by Peter Smart and Robin Hawkes. Hawkes says adding the third dimension gives us a better grasp of the "stuff that lies above and below us in a city"--tunnels and bridges, for example. "On a 2-D map, looking at all of this would be a confusing mess, in 3-D you get to see it exactly how it would look in the real world--you can easily see how objects within a city relate to each other," he says.
3-D also allows for sight-line and shadow-casting analysis. "By using something like ViziCities you can only display properties that have a view that isn’t blocked by other buildings, a feat we can achieve based on being able to know the height of objects in a city," Hawkes adds.
Smart and Hawkes have produced a working demo: Here for example is what New York looks like. To get somewhere quickly, type the longitude and latitude into the URL. New York is #-74.0131594,40.7126674. In time, they plan to add in education, health, real estate, transport, and social media data.
Hawkes hopes the tool will open up civic planning debates, help manage transport flows, and produce more useful floor-plans for museums, public buildings, and shopping malls. "We use OpenStreetMap to power ViziCities, which means you can already click and drag your way around the entire world if you wanted to," he says.