Grid schlock! Historic district residents cringe at flashy new wifi kiosks

Moving in: Brooklyn’s brownstone-lined streets will soon be filled with these metal Link NYC boxes currently seen in Manhattan that display ads for services such as +Pager.
Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

What a disconnect.

Mayor DeBlasio is compromising the age-old charm of Brooklyn’s historic districts by installing flashy, advertising-heavy wifi kiosks in the old timey neighborhoods, say local homeowners and preservationists.

“They’re very modern, it does disrupt the streetscape,” said Simeon Bankoff, head of preservationist group the Historic Districts Council. “There doesn’t seem to be any concession whatsoever to the historic streetscape.”

The city is replacing old phone booths around the five boroughs with 7,500 so-called Link NYC stations, which beam out free internet, and sport charging stations and screens for phone calls and web browsing — including five in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, four in the Cobble Hill district, and two in the Clinton Hill district, which should start popping up any day now.

Each station will stand at 9.5 feet tall — a little shorter than the height of a basketball hoop. Those on commercial strips will have 55-inch screens on either side playing ads, while those on residential streets will be blank.

The city doesn’t actually own or operate the booths. A Google-backed company is running the entire thing, and will give some ad revenue to the city — a fact that has riled up internet-freedom activists who say it is little more than a massive ad network, harvesting user data for a private company so it can sell targeted commercials.

But the brownstone boosters are more concerned with the city selling out their neighborhood aesthetics than their browsing patterns.

“I think what’s driving this program is the revenue that it’s going to generate for the company and the city,” said Peter Bray, executive director of civic group the Brooklyn Heights Association.

The critics acknowledge that the phone booths they are replacing are also modern and adorned with ads, but argue those on video screens will be far more in-your-face.

“There are going to be advertisements, so it will be changing regularly,” said Bankoff. “It becomes a visual distraction — not like when you had an old phone booth where it had just a movie poster on it.”

The city has made an effort to minimize the impact of the modern doodads in the landmarked locations. The kiosks must be installed at least 100 feet away from each other, can’t go on historic pavement or in front of individual landmarks, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission — the body that approves new structures in the protected areas — will get to okay any future kiosks beyond those replacing the phone booths.

But the fans of the antique areas say that still isn’t enough.

Bray’s group, Bankoff’s group, and representatives from other similar outfits aired their objections to the Commission at a public hearing on the structures in May, but the agency okayed them anyway.

And city officials say the agency knows best.

“[It’s] important to note that this furniture, like other street furniture, is approved by the LPC. They made the determinat­ions,” said Maya Worman, a spokesperson for the Department of Information Technology, emphasizing that booths on residential streets won’t sport ads.

Council members did not get to vote on the plan, because they don’t get a say over phone booths. Instead, the Franchise and Review Concessions Committee — a five-person panel including DeBlasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and the five borough presidents sharing one vote — gave its tick of approval.

Workers were supposed to install the kiosks in Brooklyn by the end of July, but the project has run into several delays as the result of a Verizon worker strike, according to a Link NYC spokeswoman. The boxes will be up and running in the next few months, she said.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: Updated to clarify nature of video screens.
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Mike from Williamsburg says:
As satisfying as it would be to stuff them down their hypocritical throats, maybe nice things should just be redistributed to less rich neighborhoods.

And then ban cars from their neighborhoods. In the name of historic aesthetics, of course. Not out of spite. No, not at all.
July 28, 2016, 8:17 am
Paul from Brooklyn says:
"Historic District" residents are the worst
July 28, 2016, 8:37 am
Jill from Williamsburg says:
The only people I've seen use these are homeless.
July 28, 2016, 9:18 am
Martin from Park Slope says:
It's nice to hear from someone like Mike who lives in the underprivilleged area of Williamsburg, demanding that things be spread to neighborhoods like his.
These should really just be installed in non-central train stations. Waiting for the subway in some parts of brooklyn at night is miserable and takes forever. I'm talking about the R train at the 59th street station.
July 28, 2016, 9:49 am
Layla from Clinton Hill says:
New York Citi for sale! These kiosks are the stationary version of CitiBike. It's all about the money.
July 28, 2016, 1:17 pm
Jesse from Greenpoint says:
Mike, why not shave your nipples off, since they've only decorative merit.
July 28, 2016, 1:34 pm
HONEY Pooter from Williamsburg says:
I agree with Layla - since when have private businesses been allowed on City streets?!?? The stores and advertisements are all owned by the Government communist party. The Phone Booths were never owned by private Telephone companies. How dare a Company provide free wi-fi on the street?!? Are they hitler?!?!?
July 28, 2016, 6:54 pm
Arkaydy from Park Slope says:
I'd think the greatest need for the kiosks & where they should be installed first would be in non-landmark neighborhoods.
July 29, 2016, 9 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Keep in in mind that there are already a number of these kiosks already placed in Manhattan, and I didn't hear too much against Link NYC in placing them there.
July 30, 2016, 5:06 pm
Guest from NYC says:
The download speeds are awesome. I wish I had one outside my window.
Aug. 3, 2016, 9:16 am

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: