How we created the most visible rezoning proposal in the history of city planning

inCitu x Snap Ghost fellowship wrap up

Ziv Schneider


inCitu is a New York based technology company delivering on a mission to bring future cities to life via augmented reality, to empowers residents, developers, and city governments to collaborate on the process of urban change. We turn messy, inaccessible planning and development data into an elegant, accurate visualization of projects at their urban context, in true scale. Augmented Reality (AR) is at the core of our offering to help make urban planning more tangible and understandable.

Ghost is Snap’s AR Innovation Lab — designed to unlock the next generation of augmented reality products that help people shop, learn, play, and solve everyday problems around the world.

For Snap, inCitu presents an impactful use case that empowers people to become more active participants in the real world around them through AR technology, which can be so much more than face filters.

Our focus on AR makes Snap Inc. a perfect partner for us too, since they provide the most cutting edge and accessible AR technology in the world. When we entered the Ghost fellowship, our product was mainly an iOS mobile app, which users had to download to their mobile devices, a fact that presented a hurdle. At the start of the fellowship, we outlined inCitu’s goals for this exploration:

Goal #1: Enhancing our AR capabilities by embedding Camera Kit into the inCitu AR App

Snap’s new Camera Kit offering, which we are among the first to use, allows companies to build lenses with Lens Studio and embed them into the company’s application.
Compared to what we could do in our native iOS app, this was a significant boost to our AR abilities. We are now able to design interactions and visual effects easily, and have access to a growing number of features like such as connected lenses for multi-user interactions, custom land markers for geo-anchoring, the ability to connect to external APIs which enables features like real-time shadows, and more.

Left: our first Camera Kit project — the future North Market Tower in Columbus Ohio Right: one of our latest prototypes which features real-time shadows

One of our most successful prototypes was the Lens we created for 570 5th Avenue in Manhattan, NY. The AR experience allows the viewer to engage with the building proposal in a flexible way — on site or at home; in real scale or scaled down. Users can easily toggle between real different development scenarios that are being offered in this proposal, and see more data about each scenario’s proposed land use. With this project’s AR activation, our goal was to create an experience that guides viewers through the important pieces of the proposal in an engaging and interactive way. We didn’t even anticipate the magnitude of engagement it would get!

Left: inCitu’s Lens on Snap Map | Right: 570 5th Avenue Lens viewed on site in real scale

Goal #2: Increasing discoverability of the inCitu content, testing Snapchat itself as a distribution channel

As mentioned above, and not so surprisingly, channeling our projects via a dedicated native app that people need to actively download, limited our reach to the already-interested in city planning and development. To us, accessibility to this info is the biggest failure of city planning today and a key goal. Therefore, it was important for us to test whether we get non-planning-savvys to engage with our future-developments-in-AR data if we meet them in platforms they already use and know. Snapchat, with its broad audience, was the perfect platform to choose. The fact that Snapchatters are also younger, an in general are not the “classic” participants in City Planning, made this experiment even more interesting.

For a few projects, our AR content appeared on the Snap Map, fully and organically discoverable to every snapchatter.

It was important for us to test whether we get non-planning-savvys to engage with our future-developments-in-AR data if we meet them in platforms they already use and know. Snapchat, with its broad audience, was the perfect platform to choose.

inCitu’s icons over Snap Map, fully and organically discoverable to all Snapchatters

We chose the 570 5th Avenue project again, for the reason of it being a real, under-review planning proposal with two very different development scenarios that can each impact the area. Engaging New-Yorkers with this important project can really make a difference. The fact that its Lens was already highly interactive made it an easy choice for us as well.

We planned the inCitu icon of 570 5th Ave to appear on the Snap Map for a period of one month; after less than three weeks, we got a notification: our project reached more than 100k views!!!

100K views, for a planning proposal? If you are a planner, a public official, or a community organizer, you probably read this number again and again like we did — we never heard of any city planning proposal or any development project that 100,000 people viewed and assessed before it was built. We just created the most visible planning proposal in the history of city planning/cities!

To quote Mark Funkhouser, the former Mayor of Kansas City: “In the history of planning, there have never been 100K views on any proposals that I know of!”

The impressive numbers we saw with this Snapchat integration proves our assumption that our content is highly consumable when channeled through the right platform.

The age of Snapchat’s core audience is under 35, with 48% of the users between 15 and 25. This young audience is not currently participating in the urban development process, despite being the main beneficiaries of (or generally impacted by) these development projects (or them being denied). This makes the success of channeling our content through Snapchat so much more meaningful, proving that these young city dwellers do find interest in city development when it’s communicated right, are consuming the content, and can become more active in shaping their future urban homes.

The success of our Snapchat integration proves that young city dwellers are indeed interested in city development content, and in becoming more active in shaping their future urban homes.

We entered the Ghost fellowship with a mere iOS App, and got out of it with a prototype of the power of the right content distribution channel(s) and endless possibilities for the many future platforms through which our data should be communicated to create the biggest impact on who gets the right to understand urban development and shape our cities.

The fellowship has impacted the way we think of our product offering, building an AR layer that can exist in other platforms, meeting people where they are.

As we wrap up our Ghost fellowship, we are excited to share that we are joining Snap’s partner network and very much looking forward to continuing to democratize the access to the world’s future built environment in AR with Snap as partners!

Watch us discuss our experience working with Snap as Ghost fellows and now partners in Lens Fest next week — December 6th 2022!

just showing off our new Snap partner badge!