New Rochelle, the seventh most populous city in New York, has introduced an immersive virtual reality platform that will serve as an instrumental public engagement and input tool as the city embarks on transformative planned redevelopment projects. The experience will enable residents to better experience, via 360-degree views, nearly 3 million square feet of proposed developments and improvements, located just north of New York City in Westchester County. The platform can be accessed via mobile devices or VR goggles as well as at four public kiosks installed along the proposed site of The Linc, a neighborhood-linking green space and trail planned for a shuttered stretch of the Memorial Highway, and at a dedicated New Rochelle Virtual Reality (NRVR) space at the city’s National Register of Historic Places-listed train station.
By fully visualizing the proposed buildings and public spaces through the VR platform, the city hopes to capture a more accurate reading on how residents—some of whom might otherwise find the public engagement process to be intimidating or inaccessible—react to certain elements of the revitalization initiative. Per a press release, the NRVR team is now in the process of collecting baseline data/feedback that can gain direct, objective, and analytical data regarding how residents feel about the existing development process.”
“The cornerstone of our redevelopment is our New Ro Strong community, whose input and engagement on reimaging our Downtown is invaluable,” said New Rochelle development commissioner Luiz Aragon in a statement. “The implementation of the virtual reality platform provides another innovative outlet for residents to creatively visualize the future transformation of New Rochelle and serve as a vehicle for residents to share their perspectives.”
The VR-based public engagement/feedback initiative was made possible by a $1 million grant provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies. In 2018, New Rochelle was selected as one of eight U.S. winners of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge alongside Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia, Durham, North Carolina; Fort Collins, Colorado; Huntington, West Virginia; and South Bend, Indiana. New Rochelle’s winning idea, now coming to fruition, was to “improve development projects by using virtual reality technology to clearly present plans for new buildings and public spaces to residents.”
Said New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson: “The Mayors Challenge has inspired by our entire team to be more creative, entrepreneurial, and collaborative. Our community will benefit enormously, not only from interactive tools that will help shape the most ambitious growth in our history, but also from the spirt of service and commitment to excellence that has been the hallmark of our interactions with Bloomberg Philanthropies.”
Per a 2019 article published in Westchester Magazine, the ambitious renewal scheme ultimately aims to bring 5,500 new housing residential units, 1,200 hotel rooms, 2.2 million square feet of commercial office space, and one million square feet of retail/restaurant space to New Rochelle’s 300-acre downtown core. In addition to The Linc, transformative projects that have received funding via the state’s $100 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) include a traffic-calming complete streets program, a new black box theater and arts education center, upgrades and the installation of new amenities at existing and under-development parks, and the establishment of a zoning overlay along the Lincoln Avenue Corridor that encourages pedestrian-centered development. New Rochelle was one of ten New York cities to receive DRI funding in round three of the initiative alongside Albany, Amsterdam, Auburn, downtown Brooklyn, Central Islip, Lockport, Owego, Penn Yan, and Saranac Lake.