‘Almost like a time machine or the closest thing we can get to it’: New app gives immersive history of Charlotte

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 8:07 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It’s a history lesson with a twist.

Charlotte’s Brooklyn neighborhood was once a thriving Black community.

It had schools, churches and its own library.

But, it was torn down as part of “Urban Renewal” in the 1960s.

Thousands of people lost their homes. Nearly 1,500 buildings were destroyed.

Now there’s a new experience that’s bringing them back to life.

All you need is your phone.

It’s part of a new venture from the Levine Museum of the New South and the nonprofit Potions and Pixels.

Jamie Boll went to the neighborhood to talk to them about how it works.

Dr. Willie Griffin, Levine Museum of the New South: It’s a powerful feeling to be able to walk down this block, which was once the center of the Brooklyn community. This was really the center of Black intelligence here.

Jamie: And this is really all that’s left of it. Right?

Willie: Right.

Jamie: Out of that whole community, out everything that happened, this is it?

Willie: This is it. Once the urban renewal was in the process, and as the decade went on, they began to run out of money. And it was just as one resident that we interview said, by the grace of God, that this block was actually saved. The last one.

Now you will be able to see the entire neighborhood as it was, before the bulldozers. The Levine’s Museum’s new app called KnowCLT will allow you to stand on the sidewalk, hold up your phone, and wipe away the years.

Michael Zytkow, Potions & Pixels: Augmented reality is something a lot of people have experienced to some extent, but not to this level. So this is a way for people to really hear the stories of the community that lived here, listen to poetry, see photographs and see the buildings as they were in Brooklyn.

Jamie: Do the technologies sort of transfer no matter what kind of project you’re working on? Or there are some unique things with it?

Michael: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s a totally unique project. Each project we do feels completely different. And that’s something we want. In this case, we built everything completely from the ground up from scratch. So with everything regarding the AR, having a server to have the photos, the audio, and just making sure people have a seamless experience that can be updated over time.

Jamie: Give me the genesis of this idea. Where did this come from?

Eric Scott, Levine Museum of the New South: So the museum has been exploring new digital immersive technologies for a few years now. We were exploring the story of this neighborhood, what happened during urban renewal, and conversations now around development over here in Second Ward, and the idea of restorative justice. We wanted to really take that story out into the area where Brooklyn stood, and allow people to explore the past using an app.

Willie: So there were over 200 Black businesses located here. If we think about this discussion that the city has been really involved in around economic mobility, what we know is that most people’s wealth is derived from their ability to own homes, their ability to start businesses. And so when you disperse a large community like this, young entrepreneurs don’t have that same sort of foundation.

Jamie: What’s the benefit of being out on the street to witness this, as opposed to being in the museum?

Eric: I think one of the major benefits is being in the place where history actually happened, right? Being at the site where Brevard Library once stood, but now it’s the NASCAR Hall of Fame. To be able to resurrect these significant places and see them where they once stood. And then also to hear the stories from the people who called Brooklyn home.

Jamie: What do you expect that reaction to be from people?

Eric: You know, personally, it’s a very powerful reaction to stand there and see something. It’s almost like a time machine or the closest thing we can get to it. So, you know, I hope that other people find it as powerful as we do.

Jamie: Does it help bring in younger people to use this kind of technology?

Michael: Yeah, when you think about augmented reality, you think about walking out and about, you know, things like Pokémon GO immediately come to mind. I will say when I’ve witnessed younger people utilizing this, they immediately know what they’re doing. They just get their phones out and they see it and can interact with it.

Jamie: What was it like for you, even when you held that phone up for the first time?

Michael: It almost brings you to tears, honestly, because not only is it working properly, but you feel like you’re doing justice to this history. And you’re really part of a larger opportunity to shed light on this important story for the community.

The KnowCLT app will launch on Saturday. You can find out more about it by going to WBTV.com/webextras.

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