Software Development
Apps / AR / Business development / Communities / Nonprofits

This app gives an AR tour of historical sites on North Broad Street

A nonprofit launched the Lights of North Broad app to show off important community spots, from the Divine Lorraine to the Uptown Theater to local businesses.

The Lights of North Broad App. (Courtesy photo)

This editorial article is a part of Entertainment Tech Month of’s editorial calendar.

Shalimar Thomas recalls a moment when she was people watching on the bus, thinking about how many Philadelphians probably aren’t aware of what’s going on in their community.

The executive director of the North Broad Renaissance, a nonprofit special service district that connects stakeholders relevant to North Broad Street, said the desire to help more people engage with the community was the motivation to launch the Lights of North Broad app.

This app is part of a larger programming effort called Lights of North Broad to highlight those who make up the community. The app uses augmented reality to give visitors a tour through five sites and local businesses on the strip north of Callowhill Street.

North Broad Renaissance started working with Fairmount-based agency Dream Syndicate before the pandemic to create the app, which launched last year. This summer, the nonprofit is hosting in-person events inviting members of the public to come try the tour and provide feedback about the app.

“We wanted to see, how do we get organic uses without programming? So last year, we had QR codes on the ground and it said ‘Scan me,’ and no one scanned it,” she said. “So OK, the organic approach didn’t work, so let’s use this summer to think about formal programming.”

The nonprofit hosted one focus group session earlier this summer and is hosting another on Thursday, Aug. 10. Thomas said at the first session, North Broad Renaissance heard suggestions to make the tour more accessible for seniors who are less mobile, and to use it as an introduction to the neighborhood for Temple University students.

Aunyea Lachelle on the Lights of North Broad app. (Courtesy image)

The app’s augmented reality tour guide, Aunyea Lachelle — also host of NBC10’s Philly Live — leads users through the five stops on the tour. For each stop, Lachelle explains the history and plans for the future of that site.

The app stops at the Rail Park, the Divine Lorraine, the Blue Horizon, Progress Plaza and the Uptown Theater, all historical or otherwise important sites picked via community poll.

Thomas said when her team started working on this project, they wanted to find a way to help businesses in the area as well. So they added a feature where the tour guide will provide information about the businesses on the tour route and around the stop sites.

At some of the businesses mentioned in the app, users can find a discount or reward for products at those businesses.

And users don’t need to be physically standing at each location to experience the tour. You can tell the app you’re not onsite, and Lachelle will still pop up to share information.

Thomas said success for this app looks like a lot of users, but also, more people getting involved and becoming aware of what’s going on in the North Broad community.

“If there’s a way that we can connect to that demographic that’s just walking down the street, to help them understand what’s going on in the neighborhood, to help them see what changes are taking place, to help them know how to be involved and just be informed,” she said, “if there’s a way for us to do that — then let’s do it. And that’s how the app came into play.”

Download the app via the App Store or Google Play.

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Series: Entertainment Tech Month 2023

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