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New York City launches payphone design challenge

Posting in Cities

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has challenged New Yorkers to come up with a reinvention of the humble payphone.

Working with NYC's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications Commissioner Rahul N. Merchant and Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot, the "Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge" is touted as "a competition to rally urban designers, planners, technologists and policy experts to create physical and virtual prototypes that imagine the future of New York City’s public pay telephones."

We've already seen New York payphones being equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity and touch screen technology, but the Mayor wants to hear other ideas for how payphones can be modernized -- especially as current payphone infrastructure contracts expire in 2014.

"To thrive in technology, we need to see things as they are and then imagine them as they might best be," said Merchant.

"Payphones have been an iconic part of the city's streetscape for decades, and can be vital lifelines for communication in times of emergency. But to thrive, the payphone of the future needs to offer valuable services at all times. Now, with the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge, we're asking our tech community for new takes on older technology, and inviting designs about how they might enhance the vitality of our public spaces."

There are currently over 11,000 payphones littered across NYC's sidewalks, but with the adoption of mobile devices, the number has been quietly dropping from over 35,000 in the 1990s. However, access to a phone line in emergencies is still considered important, as an increase in use after Hurricane Sandy showed.

Proposals have to be submitted by February 18, 2013. Every suggestion will be judged based on criteria including the ability to connect New Yorkers in emergency situations, sustainability, originality and community impact.

In addition to Mayor Bloomberg's challenge, pilot programs are currently underway in New York. These include digital advertising in kiosks surrounding Times Square, free Wi-Fi in various locations around the city, and interactive touchscreen kiosks near Union Square.

— By on December 4, 2012, 7:14 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure