Democratize the planning process

An app developed by a CUSP alumni helps people visualize urban planning projects. Credit:

If you’ve been living in New York for a while, this may have happened to you: you hear that a major developer is planning to erect a new high-rise building directly on top of your building, which will dwarf those around it or you hear rumors that a popular local restaurant has applied for permission to add outdoor space that will significantly increase noise levels in the neighborhood.

What you may not have realized is that whenever a proposed project has the potential to affect a substantial element of the neighborhood – a long list that includes things like socio-economic conditions, open spaces, shadows, historic and cultural resources, energy use, and local character—it is subject to a mandatory City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR), and members of the public are permitted to weigh during this process.

Too often, however, people are unaware of this right and uninvolved as their neighborhood changes around them.

Dana Chermesh Reshef realized that this was not the way to build a better, more livable city. An architect by training, she received her master’s degree in urban data science from NYU Tandon’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) in 2018 and, determined to improve the situation, she embarked on the launch inCitua platform that democratizes urban development by encouraging community participation through immersive experiences.

Users who download the inCitu app can view a 3D model of a proposed project, imagining what it will look like on the spot via augmented reality technology. They also have access to relevant data on the expected impact of a project (how many jobs a new business will bring, for example, or what effects a proposed medical facility will have on public health in a poor neighborhood). served).

Additionally, the app makes it easy to share feedback during the review process. “Typically, the city only hears from the most vocal members of the public, either those who vehemently oppose a project or those who have a strong interest in seeing it implemented,” said Chermesh Reshef, who completed an internship in the Department of Urban Planning while studying at CUSP. , Explain. “But during inCitu, we get responses from a cross-section of average residents – all age groups, income levels and education levels.”

Chermesh Reshef, originally from Israel, became interested in the transformative power of technology during her military service in the Israeli Air Force, when she trained F-15 and F-15I pilots on a flight simulator. How could the world of architecture and urban planning benefit from the same level of technological innovation, she wonders.

This question took her from Tel Aviv to Brooklyn, and although she had no background in coding or data science, she immersed herself in her studies at CUSP, with the goal of transforming the way cities address urban renewal. “As an architect, I was only a small part of this field,” she says. “When you talk about urban renewal, you’re not just talking about buildings: you’re talking about history, money, politics, grassroots activism and more.”

Armed with her CUSP degree and strong ideas on how to harness data analytics and technology to disrupt the urban planning process, Chermesh Reshef joined innovative company Red-Hook Urban Design DRAW Brooklyn as Director urban data and innovation.

As she refined the idea for inCitu with the support of DRAW Brooklyn founder Alex Washburn (former chief urban designer for New York City at the time of Bloomberg), much of her time was spent talking to developers, community board members and city agencies. . It all paid off in 2020, when she was asked to be part of Schmidt Futures’ Entrepreneur-In-Residence initiative, a two-year program that provided her with mentorship, funding and other resources. she needed to launch her young business. ground. (Philanthropy targets what it sees as the most promising ideas in technology, science, and pathways to shared prosperity in society, and inCitu was one of six companies chosen from a broad competitive pool.) “As a first-time solo entrepreneur, I sought out all the coaching I could get to become the CEO my company deserves,” she recalls that time and opportunity. “I I will always be grateful to Schmidt Futures, and I encourage any aspiring founder to seek out this kind of guidance and support.”

Chermesh Reshef, who juggles the challenges of entrepreneurship with the demands of raising three children, is closing inCitu’s $1 million pre-seed funding these days. With a successful pilot involving the relocation of Madison Square Garden and a partnership with Manhattan Community Board 5 under her belt, as well as two successful pilots in California during the summer of 2021, she looks forward to expanding the app to the entire community. New York City and then to other parts of the country.

She believes inCitu will be a boon to developers, who are required by law to seek community feedback, as well as city agencies seeking to improve their operations and city residents, who will ultimately reap the rewards. the benefits of living in more inclusive, resilient urban areas.

During the Midtown pilot, a traffic cop working at the intersection of Seventh Ave. and 34th Street explained how inCitu encourages civic engagement and transparency. “I’ve been in this area for 29 years,” she said of trying out the app, “and this is the first time anyone has asked me what I think.”

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Provided by NYU Tandon School of Engineering

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