New York City Calls For Free, Outdoor Wi-Fi Network With Reinvented Payphones

New York City Calls For Free, Outdoor Wi-Fi Network With Reinvented Payphones

NYFi proposal by Sage and Coomber Architects
NYFi proposal by Sage and Coombe Architects. (Courtesy Sage & Coombe)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has issued an RFP to create a network of free, outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots across all five boroughs. The network would become one of the largest in the country, and have a significant impact on the city’s streetscape. That’s because the plan transforms New York’s aging system of payphones—commonly known today as al fresco “toilets”—with what are being described by the city as public connection points.

“By using a historic part of New York’s street fabric, we can significantly enhance public availability of increasingly-vital broadband access, invite new and innovative digital services,” said Mayor de Blasio in a statement.

This RFP dates back to last year’s Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge, which asked designers to envision ways to make payphones useful in the 21st Century. Sage and Coombe Architects won that competition with a proposal for a sleek communications portal called NYFi (pictured at top).

According to the city, designs received through the RFP “will be evaluated on the basis of functional efficiency, aesthetics, security, durability, adaptability for various environments around the city—including historic districts and individual landmarks—and accommodation of people with disabilities.”

Visualization of Immaterials: Light Painting WiFi. (Courtesy

While the 10,000 portals will certainly impact the city’s physical landscape, it will truly transform its digital landscape—whether or not we see it happening. Thanks to a pretty incredible visualization project called Immaterials: Light Painting Wifi, we can get a sense of the spatial realities of Wi-Fi. It is simultaneously profound, stunning, and invisible.

Responses to the RFP are due by the end of June and the city plans to sign a contract by the end of this year.