John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
The retrofitted payphones give no-strings-attached power through public advertising.
Payphones might be outmoded, but they're not useless. People across the world have found ways to repurpose them, building pop-up libraries and Wi-Fi hotspots in New York, surreal goldfish aquariums in Osaka, and now free cell phone charging stations in London.
The first "Solarbox" debuted at Tottenham Court Road in October, and since then the battery-juicing apparatus has had an incredible run. As many as 80 people a day plugged into the box (which, as its name implies, is fueled by the sun). They did this without spending a pound, thanks to advertising that's split 70 percent for companies and 30 percent for community purposes like art and music shows. The "Solarbox" snagged a runner-up position in last year's Mayor's Low Carbon Entrepreneur contest, and now there are plans to plant 10 more around the city by the end of 2015.
That news comes from a recent interview in Global Young Executive, in which "Solarbox" cofounders Harold Craston and Kirsty Kenney explain what got them interested in the project in the first place:
The idea came about for three reasons. Firstly, Phone boxes have become sites of anti-social behaviour, they are no longer a good use of our public spaces. The second thing is that the battery life on our phones just isn't good enough! We found that there wasn't really anywhere that you could charge your phone in the public realm and it was out of those two things that the concept was born. Thirdly, we saw an opportunity to do this in an environmentally friendly way. Bringing solar down to the human level sends a really powerful message to the public.
The duo's been hyping the "Solarbox" with a Twitter campaign that gives out tips ("double your charging speed... by turning on aeroplane mode") and shout-outs, like this one to a woman who wanted free power so much she got on a train:
If the idea continues to magnetize interest in London, Kenney and Craston say they'd like to take it to other cities. Have a look at what might soon sprout up on your street corner: