New York City Design Contest Reinvents the Pay Phone

Community computers could replace pay phones on the streets of the Big Apple


Will community computers soon be replacing public pay phones on city streets? If the winning prototypes from this week’s Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge in New York City are any indication, then yes. The six winners used modern designs and technology to turn anachronistic amenities into digital information hubs.

Participants in the city-sponsored contest were charged with creating a prototype that will replace the nearly 11,000 public pay phones in New York’s five boroughs. The franchise contracts for the installation, maintenance, and operation of the existing phones were signed in 1999 and are set to expire in October of 2014.

In advance of that date, the Bloomberg administration has already begun testing ideas for alternative uses for these public spaces, including launching interactive touchscreens around Union Square and free public Wi-Fi at pay phone locations around the city.

“New York City’s public pay telephone network has incredible potential,” said Rahul Merchant, Chief Information and Innovation Officer for the mayor’s office, in a statement. “By collaborating with the city’s vibrant technology community to develop creative and forward-thinking ideas, this infrastructure could become one of our most important technological assets, helping define the 21st century streetscape in cities around the world.”

The Reinvent Payphone prototypes were judged and awarded in six different categories: connectivity, creativity, visual design, functionality, and community impact. The connectivity award went to Sage and Coombe Architects for its NYfi design, a prototype that serves as an “interactive portal to public information, goods, and services.”

FX Fowle won in the creativity category for its its NYC LOOP, a “contemporary pay phone with a uniquely tailored public space.” The design includes a smart screen for making calls, as well as an “information puddle” powered by a projector that creates images on the sidewalk.

Other designs included an environmental sensor network, created by a team of students from local universities, and another student-designed prototype called Smart Sidewalks, which seeks to raise community awareness about issues like climate change and the digital divide.

To see the winning designs and vote on your favorite, visit the City of New York’s Facebook Page at

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