With the ubiquitousness of the cell phone, pay phones may be on their way to obsolescence. While London has found a way to preserve their iconic red phone booths as tourist attractions, the gray metal boxes are largely ignored in New York, or have attracted pedestrian ire. In Hells Kitchen, a coalition of residents, business owners and leaders are attempting to clear phone booth “congestion” using crowdsourcing and technology.
Founded in 2009, Clinton Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety (CHEKPEDS) is pushing for community input in the placement or removal of the booths. The bulky booths crowd sidewalks, and in a city lacking in public toilets–another issue to address–have also been used as makeshift urinals. This is particularly a problem on 9th Avenue, as the addition of another traffic lane to accommodate flow to the Lincoln Tunnel resulted in narrower sidewalks. According to CHEKPEDS founder Christine Berthet, statistics released by the NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoiTT) indicate there are roughly three phone booths per intersection on 9th Avenue, and a large percentage are not even connected.
The current contract between the DoiTT and the phone booth company expires in 2014. Using open source platform OpenPlans, CHEKPEDS created an interactive map that allows passersby to pinpoint problematic phone booths and comment on their states. So far, locals have identified over 80 phone booths as too cumbersome, little used, sites of drug deals or in need of repair. Berthet said CHEKPEDS has provided the city with their interactive map, which will be taken into consideration in negotiations of the new contract next year.
CHEKPED’s phone booth project isn’t the first to take advantage of online crowdsourcing for urban beautification. OpenPlans was also used to plan New York’s new bike share program. In collaboration with the NYC Department of Transportation, the OpenPlans’ NYC Bike Share Map allowed New Yorkers to suggest potential station locations and enter justifications for their proposals. The map collected more than 10,000 unique suggestions.
OpenPlans has also been used in crowdsourcing Chicago’s bike share stations, mapping ATM surcharges and identifying dangerous crosswalks using Google Street View. Tools such as this have the opportunity to place urban planning in the hands of the community, particularly using the Community Projects Platform and PlanningPress. While official decisions may still need government approval, the power behind them can come from those who walk the streets daily.