Reinvent Payphones

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The Reinvent Payphones Demo Day is fully reserved,

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Thanks for your submissions.


How can New York City reinvent payphones to make our city more accessible, safer, healthier, greener and better informed? Show the world in the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge.

Submit your prototype idea by February 18 at 9:00AM EST to be considered as a presenter at the Reinvent Payphones Demo Day on March 5, 2013. Selected entrants will be notified by email by February 22, 2013. Full rules available here

Overview and Key Dates

The Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge challenges you to redesign New York City's payphones.

WHY: Current payphone vendor agreements expire in 2014, creating opportunities for innovation.

WHO: The City is currently gathering feedback on the future of payphones.  As part of this effort, the City is inviting students, urban planners, designers, technologists, architects, creators and legal and policy experts to build physical and/or virtual prototypes imagining a new public utility through payphone infrastructure. 

Looking for a team to work with? Visit to review ideas with potential partners.

WHAT: The City manages a telecommunications network of 11,412 public pay payphones throughout the five boroughs.  Payphone use has decreased with mobile device adoption, but payphones still serve the communications needs of thousands of New Yorkers a day, especially in times of emergency.

WHEN and WHERE: Reinvent Payphones runs from December 4, 2012 - March 5, 2013.  Don't forget to register for updates.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

  • Design Challenge Demo Day, 6:30 - 9:00PM
  • Quirky headquarters, 606 West 28th Street, 7th Floor, Manhattan
  • Up to 15 semi-finalists will demonstrate their prototypes to a panel of judges
  • The Reinvent Payphones Demo Day is fully reserved, but you can join us online at

Monday, February 18, 2013

  • Submission Period Ends at 9AM EST
  • Submit digital files presenting your prototypes to
  • Up to 15 prototypes will be selected as semi-finalists and invited to participate in the Demo Day

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


How to Enter

REGISTER: All interested participants must register through this site to receive important updates.

ATTEND: There will be an optional Information Session on January 23, 2013.  This is your opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the City's payphone infrastructure and pilot programs.

SUBMIT: Submit information about your prototype for consideration by February 18, 2013 at  Please note: the Submission Period will start in early 2013 and we will update this website with directions on how to submit your prototype then.  Applicants are required to agree to the Official Rules listed below to participate. Up to 15 semifinalist prototypes will be selected for demonstration at the Reinvent Payphones Demo Day.

DEMO: Up to fifteen (15) semifinalists will present at the Reinvent Payphones Demo Day on March 5, 2013 and compete for three prizes. The top five winners will then be featured on the City of New York's Facebook page for a public vote.

Official Rules

No purchase is necessary to enter and win. The Design Challenge is open to those 18 years of age or older and who are lawful US residents at the time of entry and throughout the competition. If you are a New York City student under the age of 18, please have a supervising teacher, parent or school administrator email NYC Digital at and we will work with you to register your team.  Void where restricted or prohibited by law. Please click here to view a full set of the official rules.

Entries must be received by February 18, 2013 at 9:00AM EST when the Competition Submission Period ends. The Submission must include the name(s) and email addresses of team members and a link to a virtual demonstration of the Submission. Limit one (1) entry per individual or team. Up to fifteen semi-finalists will be selected and invited to present their Submission at the Demo Day on March 5, 2013. Up to three finalists may be awarded at Demo Day. 

Judging Criteria

Submissions will be judged by 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


Andrew McLaughlinEntrepreneur in residence, betaworks
Majora Carter CEO, Startup Box
Jason Goodman CEO and Co-Founder of 3rd Ward
Ben KaufmanFounder and CEO of Quirky
Nancy LublinCEO & Chief Old Person of
Beth NoveckFounder of the White House Open Government Initiative


NYC Open Data

Things to Keep in Mind

Connectivity. Payphones currently rely on the power/phone line of the adjacent property. Many phones are electrified and many have traditional copper phone line connections. Almost all locations are capable of becoming electrified and being fitted with fiber connections with speeds of at least 15 Mbps. What alternative communications amenities would fill a need? (E.g. WiFi, touch screens, mobile device charging facilities, etc.)

Design. How can sidewalk payphones be redesigned to enhance aesthetics and integrate seamlessly with city streets and public infrastructure? How should design vary by location? Can sustainable power sources such as solar power support new infrastructure? How can we plan to prevent vandalism? What is the user experience of using the future payphone?

Community Impact. How can payphones support community needs such as local services, businesses and programs? How can the community play a role in content development?

Sustainability. The City of New York receives a 36% share of revenue generated through the payphones. New payphone kiosks should generate revenue that equals or exceeds the most recent annual revenue of $17.7 million: $1.2 million from calls and $15.9 from advertising. How can new payphones continue to generate City revenue while adding value?

Accessibility. Payphone kiosks should ensure that people with disabilities will be able to utilize new communications infrastructure. See Section 7 of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities Inclusive Design Guidelines manual on creating public environments that are usable by everyone. How will payphones ensure accessibility?

Safety. Payphone usage tripled in areas that lost power during Hurricane Sandy, as payphones receive electricity via the phone line and not external power sources. Current public safety and service measures include free calls to 911 and 311 at any time. How can the City to use payphones for emergency preparedness, response, and recovery? 

Watch a video of the Reinvent Payphones Information Session (Q&A with City employees who manage payphone infrastructure and public space)


The City is thrilled to partner with local universities and colleges that are helping to promote the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge to faculty and students.  If you are a dean or a member of faculty and interested in seeing how your students can get involved, please email

Colleges and Universities:

  • Cornell NYC Tech
  • ITP, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU
  • MFA in Design for Social Innovation, School of Visual Arts
  • MFA in Interaction Design, School of Visual Arts
  • Milano School for International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy
  • New York Law School
  • NYU Center for Urban Science & Progress
  • NYU Wagner
  • Parsons The New School for Design
  • Polytechnic Institute of New York University
  • Technological Change Lab at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University

We are grateful to the following local companies who have offered their services or space to make Reinvent Payphones possible.

NYC Start-Up Companies:

  • CollabFinder
  • Digg
  • Quirky


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