Downtown kiosks

I’m not sure yet how I feel about this.

City Council on Wednesday will consider a plan to install up to 125 interactive digital kiosks around the city, a proposal that has drawn support from city officials who tout the advertising revenue benefits and opposition from some who equate the kiosks to sidewalk billboards.

If approved by council, the city would have Ohio-based IKE Smart City LLC install at least 75 kiosks within the next three years, focusing on commercial areas with heavy pedestrian traffic. The kiosks, which are designed to resemble massive smart phones, would display dining, transit, event and lodging options and provide free Wi-fi and 911 access, among other features.

The city would receive 42 percent of the revenue generated from digital advertisements displayed on the kiosks, providing an estimated $35 to $50 million over the course of the 12-year contract, according to the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development. Under the agreement, IKE Smart City would guarantee a minimum payment to the city of $11 to $16 million over the 12 years, depending on the number of kiosks installed.

City officials would have the option to extend the contract for another 10 years, in two five-year increments, if IKE Smart City meets certain performance goals. The company would pay for installation of the kiosks without using any public dollars.

Opponents of the kiosk proposal include Scenic Houston, a nonprofit that helped push for the city’s 1980 sign code that bans any new billboards. In a letter sent Friday to Andy Icken, the city’s chief development officer, Scenic Houston Executive Director Heather Houston said the board “strongly feels that the digital kiosks constitute digital billboards with a primary purpose to advertise.”

Icken disagreed, arguing Houstonians and tourists would find the kiosks helpful in navigating the city.

“I just don’t think of this as a digital billboard,” Icken said. “I believe they are interactive display screens, much like your iPhone, that allow people to get information.”

The kiosks also would display local job listings, arts and culture options, such as museums and theaters, a list of government buildings and services in the city, and a list of homeless shelters. Advertisements could not include racially derogatory, political or sexually explicit content, nor any ads for tobacco products.

Cooke Kelsey, chair of Scenic Houston’s advocacy committee, said the group also is concerned that business owners would lack the ability to prevent kiosks from being placed on sidewalks in front of their establishments.

Additionally, Kelsey argued the kiosks would defy the purpose of the city’s sidewalk right-of-way, which he said generally is supposed to be used for traffic-related street signage, such as stop signs.

“That’s what a right-of-way or easement is, an understanding that they use it for those types of purposes,” Kelsey said. “So, putting an 800-pound smartphone in front of your front door, even if it’s a map, that’s stretching it. If they’re starting to broadcast messages that have nothing to do with traffic, you’ve gone way outside of that.”

The embedded image is of one of these things in San Antonio, from a Scenic Houston action page to email your opposition to City Council. I get the concerns, especially about sidewalk space, and I agree that business owners should have a say in whether one of them is on their sidewalk. There are already colorful direction-oriented signs around downtown, which these would either supplement or supplant. I guess this would feel like less of a big deal if our bus stops had advertising on them, as they do in many other big cities. Honestly, my reaction is a shrug, perhaps because I just don’t see these things on the same level of ugliness as billboards. Maybe I’ll change my mind later, I don’t know. CM Sallie Alcorn is on record in the story as being opposed, while CM Ed Pollard is in favor. I predict someone will tag this, and then we’ll see what the rest of Council thinks. What’s your opinion? Campos, who does not like them, has more.

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9 Responses to Downtown kiosks

  1. Pingback: Fifth of May | Camposcommunications' Blog

  2. Jason Hochman says:

    I support this. The City is in need of money, and the falling real estate prices are going to cause their property tax to fall. Of course it is worth noting that the Democrat Parker Regime banned setting down anything on a sidewalk downtown, as part of its anti homeless hate program. The Democrats are truly only for rights if they don’t have to be annoyed by those whose rights they protect. The entire rationale for protecting their rights is to segregate them to exercise their rights someplace else.

    So, I would be glad to see the kiosks downtown. It would be also nice if they had robot concierges downtown. Those security robots could be taken from Metro and repurposed to help people downtown, and stop and say things like “Hi, can I carry your bags for you? Because it is illegal to set them down.” And they can give directions, assist with street crossing, and take trash from people and deposit it in a can. If you have a wrapper or empty Starbucks cup the robot concierge will say, let me take that and put it into the trash. They can also give messages of encouragement to the homeless.

    I would invent a robotic portable toilet that patrols the streets, so that when people spill out of downtown bars after drinking 18 beers at the downtown bars, they have a place to go. People urinating in public is a nuisance, and, in one case, even led to a fatal fight right in Houston.

  3. voter_worker says:

    I hope EA Longoria can be brought on board if there is a PSA component to this scheme. During elections, the kiosks could display nearby polling places and wait times. I felt super unenthusiastic about these at first, because nobody needs more advertising and clutter in their life. But $35-50 million is nothing to sneeze at.

  4. C.L. says:

    Dr. Hochman, can you please expand/expound on these ‘falling real estate prices’ you referenced ? Where exactly is that taking place in the Houston area ? I’d like to get in on that deal and start buying undervalued properties.

    Also, you seem to be pro-robot. Were you/are you also pro-Sex Robot ? That idea seemed to get shot down pretty quick by the City.

  5. Jason Hochman says:

    C.L. in my neighborhood, there are many fallow properties. Moving trucks coming every day. The signs are up, and then they say “price reduced.” The house behind mine was reduced by 16,000 and then 18,000. Sure having me around might lower the value, but that house has been empty since late summer/early autumn of last year, with no buyer in sight. The newspaper tells fibs about the raging market because they need to fuel the tax revenue to keep the government rolling in cash and lucre.

    I was certainly in favor of sex robots. I remember how the lying news presented the business as “robot brothel.” The hypocrites at the city who were all enraged by it do so little to stop real prostitution and human trafficking. I remember sending a message to the Republican on city council, Mr Travis, who rabidly opposed this business and who continued to mischaracterize it as a “robot brothel.” He never wrote back. He should be impeached. In today’s environment of anti-social distancing, robotic sex is the safest sex. That is what we should all be doing, and now, thanks to Mr. Travis, we instead have the pandemic spreading. I guess that the company didn’t offer enough payouts to the city.

    When we de-fund the police, the city won’t have their enforcement powers. Someone will step in to fill the void. Hopefully, like the old days, the Mafia will come in and maintain order.

  6. Ross says:

    In my hood, houses are selling for more than list price in a few days. Overall, prices are rising in Greater Houston. Some small areas may be different, but overall that’s not the case.

  7. David Fagan says:

    “email your opposition to City Council” why? It’s not like they have any power. Emailling your opposition to City Council has the exact same influence on opposing an issue as complaining on in this comment section.


    It would be nice to change that and our city council members would actually have a level of influence and represent their constituents with that influence.

  8. Jason Hochman says:

    David, that is very correct. Contacting your city council member is like waving a sword at a tidal wave.

  9. C.L. says:

    Dr. H.~

    Determining that the real estate market is soft or falling based on one or more sales by your house that’s had its/their price reduced is akin to saying the planet isn’t warming ‘cause we had a freeze in February.

    But I’m with you, I’m looking forward to the good ole days when the Mafia will once again run things.

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