Searching For a Place to Plug In, New Yorkers Find Urban Community and Infrastructural Need

November 29, 2012

By: Hayley Solarz

Why is it that in the Tech Age, we have so few places to plug in our portable devices?New Yorkers never cease to inspire us. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, their resilience and sense of community have been tested by emergencies both expected and unforeseen in ecological disasters.

New York after Sandy has brought to the fore a basic infrastructural need. It’s a surprising, yet quintessentially “Millennial” problem. It’s the need to plug in. When hundreds of thousands of residents lost power in their homes, people clung to their smart phones and iPads. These devices served as conduits of communication with loved ones and gateways to the outside world. And all over the city, people were scrambling for power outlets, desperate to revive their dying gadgets.

Makeshift Charging Stations Help Connect New Yorkers… to Fellow New Yorkers

Despite the incredible efforts of FEMA and city officials, the dearth of power sources was one problem left largely to the public to solve. Residents of Midtown Manhattan strung extension cords out onto their stoops. Companies like Time Warner and AT&T rolled out mobile recharging and Wi-Fi vans for public use. A pizza shop lent the use of their power strips, even to noncustomers. Throughout NYC, city dwellers stepped up to ensure some semblance of stability and normalcy for a tech-reliant community. We can’t help but feel hopeful seeing what people can do when forced to come together in crisis.

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And while this makes for an uplifting story, we still wonder how things could get so desperate. Why is it that in the Tech Age, we have so few places to plug in our portable devices? We continue to rely on antiquated infrastructure that assumes outlets are mainly used for household appliances and desk lamps, when this is no longer the case. Our devices use such a small amount of electricity, and cost little to recharge, it just seems sensible for cities to make available accessible power sources for public use.

An Opportunity for San Francisco to Democratize Its Power Sources

In a tech capital that boasts a great deal of civic innovations, SF tech companies and city officials have an opportunity to take up the task of expanding access to power sources. When tragedy strikes, our responsibilities extend beyond helping those affected in the moment of disaster, though it’s a great place to start. We must also reimagine disaster relief in a way that anticipates the practical needs of the modern age and improves city infrastructure so we can better manage future crises.

What these charging stations would look like remains to be seen. It’s possible that public charging stations will cost money with each use. Others will be free in exchange of looking at advertisements, a model offered by a company called goCharge. We encourage this diversity of proposed solutions, in order to find out what works best for flexible electricity infrastructures in San Francisco, New York and in urban centers across the nation.

Our tech gadgets are not mere distractions – they are sources of information, of community, of sanity, when everyday life is thrown by those unpredictable forces beyond our control. The fact that we are so reliant on this technology is the new reality we face. This reliance can impose a great deal of inconvenience, even strife, as Hurricane Sandy has shown. But the community solidarity we’re seeing on the streets of New York City should inspire us. It’s our opportune moment, as a tech capital, to pick up on their strong showing of ingenuity by making our power sources convenient and accessible. That way, we can better manage potential disasters and navigate our city with a greater sense of security.

At Reset, we view such an issue not only as cities’ basic infrastructural lacking, but as a Gov 2.0 need. Strengthening our infrastructure to address modern technology has potential to boost civic life, even and especially in natural disasters. Access to electronic devices and the ability for citizens to engage and participate is crucial, for both a more responsive government and for community rebuilding.

 

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