New Rochelle Virtually Perfects How to Gather Community Input

Hindsight is 2020. Or thankfully 2020 is now hindsight. And wow what a rear view. But what about foresight? Communities have always had a difficult balance to strike: serve their citizens each day AND plan for their futures. But in 2020 visibility seemed almost zero. Each day’s sunset felt like a moving target. Which way is forward?

You may have learned early in the pandemic about North Star client New Rochelle, NY, one of the first community-spread outbreaks of COVID-19. We learned in-depth about this place minutes from Manhattan a few years ago.

As communities lean into the future on behalf of their citizens, we all recognize that the world’s greatest achievements are the result of passionate people pursuing personal ideals. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under orders from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry toeing to the status quo. And Thomas Paine didn’t spark this country’s revolution for freedom by playing it safe. (Paine made New Rochelle his new home in his new country.)

But for original thinkers to thrive, they must be in a place that supports individuality and the pursuit of their next big thing. That’s New Rochelle. Ideally located, ideally diverse, ideally entertaining. During our partnership, research uncovered New Rochelle’s distinction:

For those seeking their ideal, any ideal, New Rochelle, NY, just 30 minutes from the heart of Manhattan, is where a heritage of originality, refreshed perspectives, and a culture of inclusion, creates New York’s next great place.

This strategic positioning and dynamic brand became an invitation to many to make the community Ideally Yours. So even as New Rochelle met the challenge of the pandemic, big ideas continued to thrive. The community confirmed and expanded their strategic promise. 

Since its branding initiative with North Star, New Rochelle has been a finalist for the corporate relocation of a Fortune 25 company, a million-dollar winner in the 2018 Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, and recipient of a multi-million dollar grant from Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative for the Mid-Hudson Region.

One of those next big things for New Rochelle is changing the ways the city gathers timely input on its growth and development. New Rochelle is home to IDEA, Interactive Digital Environments Alliance, which (according to its website) operates the IDEALab to encourage innovation, collaboration, research, open data and social responsibility in the fields of immersive media, artificial intelligence, digital storytelling and performance. The organization serves as a platform for a growing community of artists, technologists, and entrepreneurs to develop new work with emerging technologies. 

The City, business leaders and IDEA pursued the 2018 Mayors Challenge to integrate virtual reality into city planning and development. Previously, New Rochelle gathered input on developments long after many decisions had been made, making input more procedural than proactive. Meetings were often inconvenient for most, and those with the time were usually against any plan being discussed. A broad range of input seemed impossible. By using video gaming and modeling technologies, leaders can take the potential development plans to the people even in the actual places proposed for development. Residents can immerse themselves in the plans and share immediate input. One input session was conducted Downtown where the Farmers Market would be redesigned and revitalized. One VR participant happened to notice no recycling bins in the plans. Within a week there were recycle bins installed. Responsive. Immediate. Community-driven.

The Virtual Reality component will allow New Rochelle (and ultimately your community) to co-design the city with all of its original thinkers – its residents. New Rochelle hosts Virtual Reality events across the community, and has a VR station at the transit center Downtown. The community gathers actionable input in a timely manner so that it can shape the built environment. New Rochelle recently launched its website for NRVR, the New Rochelle Virtual Reality platform, visually on brand but most importantly on strategy.

The most successful community brands are those that continue to be demonstrative of their distinction uncovered through research. Creative tools can help frame that cohesive message but living into what makes you special is where real success comes. New Rochelle has made it part of their behavior and civic demeanor, not just a municipally driven initiative. Congratulations to New Rochelle and its partners for giving everyone in the community the opportunity to make its growth and development Ideally Yours.

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Photo Credit: City of New Rochelle