Secondary Navigation

Mayor Bloomberg, Chief Information & Innovation Officer Merchant And Chief Digital Officer Haot Announce Winning Prototypes From <i>reinvent Payphones Design Challenge</i>

March 6, 2013

Top Ideas Will Help Shape Design and Functionality of the Payphone of the Future

Renderings of Winning Prototypes Available at

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Chief Information and Innovation Officer Rahul N. Merchant and Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot announced the winning prototypes from the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge, a competition that engaged hundreds of urban designers, planners, technologists and policy experts to create physical and virtual prototypes that imagine the future of the City’s approximately 11,000 public pay telephones. The City received more than 125 submissions aimed at modernizing payphone infrastructure and optimizing the use of public space. Competition judges selected 11 semi-finalists to demo their prototypes and the top submissions were awarded for best connectivity, creativity, visual design, functionality, and community impact. The Reinvent Payphones Demo Day occurred last night at Quirky, a social product development company that brings new product ideas to life through its online collaborative platform. Eleven semi-finalists presented their prototype ideas to a panel of judges including Ben Kaufman, founder and CEO of; Andrew McLaughlin, entrepreneur in residence at Betaworks; Majora Carter, founder of Startup Box; Jason Goodman, CEO and co-founder of 3rd Ward; Nancy Lublin, CEO of; and former United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck.

“New York is the most dynamic city in the world, and while technology has changed all around us, the city’s payphones have remained mostly the same for decades,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “That’s why our Administration launched interactive touchscreens around Union Square and free public Wi-Fi at payphone locations across the five boroughs. The Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge has resulted in some of the most creative and dynamic ideas to date – with the potential to transform the aesthetics and functionality of New York City payphones.”

“New York City’s public pay telephone network has incredible potential,” said Chief Information and Innovation Officer Merchant. “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 goal of the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge is to collaboratively engage designers, urban planners and technologists in imagining an innovative future for the City’s public communications infrastructure, and we have been humbled by the phenomenal talent and creativity of the initiative’s participants,” said Chief Digital Officer Haot. “With more than 125 outstanding submissions, 11 semifinalists, and six winners, Reinvent Payphones exceeded our expectations and marks another step forward in Mayor Bloomberg’s roadmap to make New York the world’s leading digital city. From Wi-Fi hotspots and charging stations to alternative energy sources and community art installations, once again New York City proves to be fertile ground for launching groundbreaking ideas that set the global standard.”

“We were blown away by the thought and design that went in to these submissions,” said Ben Kaufman, Founder and CEO of Quirky. “The Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge furthers the notion that great ideas can come from anywhere. Even better is that these ideas were developed for New York, but could inspire cities around the world.”

The Reinvent Payphones prototypes were judged and awarded on the following criteria:

  • Connectivity: Ability to connect New Yorkers and enable communication, including for safety and emergency purposes.
  • Creativity: Originality, innovation, and quality of idea.
  • Visual Design: Including visual appeal and user experience
  • Functionality: Flexibility, versatility, scalability, accessibility, and sustainability.
  • Community Impact: Support of local residents, businesses and cultural institutions.

A sixth prize category, “Popular Choice,” will be decided by public vote through the City of New York’s Facebook Page at Voting begins today and will run through 5:00 PM on Thursday, March 14, with the winner announced on Friday, March 15.

Connectivity Award

NYfi, Sage and Coombe Architects

“Reinventing the payphone is not only about a sleeker design or a digital display, it is about radically reimagining a public amenity; how it will be used, and what it will provide,” said the NYfi team. “Unlike today’s payphone, the NYfi will be an interactive portal to public information, goods, and services, a hub for free wireless internet access, and an open infrastructure for future applications. Two versions of the NYfi are proposed: a 10-foot model for commercial and manufacturing districts, and a smaller model – with limited functionality beyond Wi-Fi and emergency services – for residential and historic districts where new payphones have not traditionally been permitted.”

Creativity Award


“NYC Loop combines a beautiful, contemporary payphone with a uniquely tailored public space that can be chosen to suit New York's diverse communities,” said the NYC LOOP team. “It provides sound harmonizing technology as well as a smart screen for making calls and enhancing personal mobile communication. The Loop also features a responsive projector that creates an ‘information puddle’ on the sidewalk with which any passerby can interact-an amazing opportunity for local artists or as a means of generating revenue from advertising space. The iconic design of NYC Loop and the relationship of its public space units to the city's neighborhoods will become an integral part of New York City's urban identity.”

Visual Design Award

Beacon, frog design

“BEACON is New York City’s next generation open communications platform, connecting the city and its services with our communities, businesses, residents, and visitors,” said the Beacon team.

Community Impact Award (Tie)

NYC I/O: The Responsive City, Control Group and Titan

“Our submission, the ‘NYC I/O: Responsive City,’ updates the payphone with a modern array of sensors and displays to create a foundational input/output system for an open, urban-scale computing platform, which would allow New York City to respond to and serve the people in a way never done before,” said the NYC I/O team. “Through open access to real-time data and a distribution platform for community, civic, arts, and commercial apps and messaging, we can create a safer, more efficient, and more enjoyable city.”

Windchimes, NYU ITP, Cooper Union, Parsons

“We are a group of students and recent grads from Parsons, NYU-ITP and Cooper Union studying art, engineering, environmental science, and design,” said the Windchimes team. “This competition was a great way to do meaningful work across disciplines that could have a direct impact on the quality of life in NYC and build toward a sustainable future. With Windchimes, we imagined adapting payphones to create a distributed environmental sensor network in service of New York City residents and visitors. The City’s Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge allowed us to build a team around this vision and share it with the rest of the community.”

Functionality Award

Smart Sidewalks, Syracuse University, UC Davis, Parsons, Rama Chorpash Design LLC, Cheng+Snyder

“The Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge was an opportunity to reimagine a piece of outdated city infrastructure in the age of mobile,” said the Smart Sidewalks team. “In Smart Sidewalks we considered the widest range of issues the payphone might address from the changing climate to lowering the digital divide.”

In 1999, the City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications entered into a number of franchise contracts for the installation, maintenance and operation of public payphones on City sidewalks. These agreements expire on October 15, 2014. The next step in determining the future of the New York City payphone is the issuance of a Request for Proposals, which will be informed by Reinvent Payphone Design Challenge winners, public feedback received through the City’s Request for Information issued last summer and ongoing pilot programs – including digital advertising on phone kiosks around Times Square, interactive touchscreens around Union Square and free public Wi-Fi at payphone locations across the city.

Media Contact

Marc La Vorgna / Kamran Mumtaz
(212) 788-2958

Media Contact

Nick Sbordone / Lara Torvi
(212) 788-6602

Media Contact

Marybeth Ihle / Jake Goldman
NYC Digital
(212) 669-7742