The Lead

Philly’s North Broad Street project offers a new view of corridor

By: - June 4, 2022 6:30 am

By Brian Saunders

PHILADELPHIA — This summer, Philadelphians will be able to experience a renaissance of augmented reality along North Broad Street.

Every Thursday through Aug. 25, “Summer a Broad” will offer an interactive experience via ground decals that visitors or residents can check out on smartphones of these five historic North Broad Street locations: The Rail Park (North Broad and Noble streets), The Divine Lorraine Hotel (699 N. Broad St.), The Historic Blue Horizon (1314 N. Broad St.), The Historic Sullivan Progress Plaza (1501 N. Broad St.) and The Uptown Theater (2240 N. Broad St.).

Standing in front of the Divine Lorraine Hotel, Shalimar Thomas, executive director of North Broad Renaissance, introduced the augmented reality experience that will allow people walking down the street to scan a QR code that will be on the ground decal and experience community vitalization efforts.

According to Thomas, the North Broad Renaissance has partnered with local businesses, restaurants, barbershops, and the Free Library of Philadelphia to offer discounts to patrons. At the same time, they bask in augmented reality and take a trip through the historic city streets.

“You’ll see that the participating businesses are not just restaurants,” Thomas said. “We wanted to make sure that we were inclusive. We understand the dynamics and the demographics of the corridor.”

Thomas added that she wanted to make sure people could find comfortable spaces. In addition, it is an opportunity for people to get a feel for the development designed to enrich North Broad Street and learn about the history of some of the corridor’s buildings.

“What I love most is that it can do so many things,” Thomas said. “One thing is that we’re getting feet on the street, which is important to business development and business growth. The other thing is it breaks down barriers to engagement. All you need is a smartphone to be connected to community vitalization. You don’t have to attend a meeting. You don’t have to register for an event. All you have to do is walk down the street, and just like that, you’re connected to the work we’re doing here.”

Ellen Hwang is the Philadelphia director for the Knight Foundation, a social investor who helps fund arts, culture, community, media and democracy projects. Hwang said that an effective democracy comes from an engaged community and that technology fundamentally impacts that.

“In some ways, when you hear augmented reality, maybe some of you are like, ‘what is that?’” Hwang said. “For others, it’s like a fun type of technology. So we wanted to invest in this opportunity, invest in Shalimar, work with her, and call her a partner because we believe in finding ways to use technology for good and finding ways to use technology to connect people to the city to fall in love with it, to talk about the histories. There are so many things along Broad, both in our individual and collective histories, that can come alive through this technology platform.”

Denis Murphy, who works for the Philadelphia Commerce Department, said that his office has learned that reaching people requires diverse thought, means and methods.

“I think North Broad Renaissance’s work has many dimensions,” Murphy said. “It’s bringing people together in an area where it’s changing where there are new people, there are longtime business owners, and I just want to commend Shalimar.”

Co-owner of one of the partnering businesses of “Summer a Broad” is Luke Kirby, who partnered with Rosalind Lindsey to own a Tropical Smoothie at 1600 N. Broad St.

“North Broad Renaissance has been a great experience,” Kirby said. “We had such a great time and the synergy that everybody has with all the various companies and vendors coming out today. So excited to have the ‘Summer a Broad’ program right here.”

Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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