Navigating the Innovation Gap: A New Kind of Intersection

June 29, 2017 Sara Audisho

As promised, this and the next several segments will be dedicated to profiling companies that are working to innovate urban centres.

Let’s kick this off with Intersection.

As it claims, Intersection “joins the digital and physical worlds to ease and enrich people’s journeys through their cities and connect them with their communities.” They’re doing this little by little, implementing public services through technology, like free Wi-Fi stations across cities.

Intersection is the result of a merger between Titan, a transit advertising company, and Control Group, a “leader in technology and design innovation.”

It’s also worth noting that the company is backed by Sidewalk Labs, an urban technology company under the Alphabet umbrella – which of course is also home to Google (is that enough corporate structure talk for you?).

Basically, Intersection is a small piece of a big Google-y pie. In tandem with Sidewalk Labs, which will also be profiled in later weeks, Intersection is part of a growing effort by the tech industry to directly address urban challenges with digital solutions.

What makes Intersection particularly unique is its tech-advertising duality. It’s literally the lovechild of advertisers and techies, which if you haven’t noticed, is quite rare.

Sure, there’s significant overlap between these roles in any agency. Our Content Editor here at The Tite Group dabbles in site building and coding (yeah, she’s that good). But tech and marketing are usually two separate houses – neighbours that lend each other a cup of sugar without moving in together. 

Well forget the cup of sugar and get down on one knee, because the marriage between these two families looks awfully promising.

Take Intersection’s hallmark project LinkNYC, accompanying MTA On The Go. LinkNYC is a pioneering communications network that can be understood as the 21st century payphone. Over 7,500 payphones across the five boroughs of New York City will be replaced with Links: stations that provide free public Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging, city maps and directions.

Made possible by a healthy working relationship between the City of New York and Intersection, LinkNYC is easing the life of the commuter, the traveler, the anyone who finds themselves stranded on 5th Ave with a dead phone.

Seems simple, and it’s not the cure to all ailments, but its implementation throughout the city is making a difference: “92% of New Yorkers see LinkNYC as a valuable asset – useful, responsive, personalized, trustworthy, and an integral part of the community.” It’s the little things, isn’t it?

And here’s where the two worlds of tech and marketing colliding becomes so high five-worthy: taxpayers don’t pay a cent for these initiatives. They’re fully paid for by advertising.

Not just any advertising either. Think about it. As Intersection becomes more integral to the urban environment, bringing digital products to every stop and station in cities the company partners with, it will be able to monopolize the ad space across transportation networks. It already owns many urban panels, station displays, and rail and bus media in 9 major American cities. 

So we’ve reached a point where advertising pays for a public good.

You can have a lot of opinions on whether that’s beneficial to society in the greater sense. Keeping the conversation grounded though, this should really be heralded as a successful first step in cost-effective problem solving for the public sector. Maybe this warrants optimism for companies working with cities, and not against them.

Hopefully by this point, readers can see the value of introducing digital solutions to the urban space.

In the next segment, Intersection’s older brother, Sidewalk Labs, will be spotlighted. At the end of the day, if you’re not convinced of the value of urban innovation, then at least you now know that you can surf the web on the corner of 5th and 50th when you’re tired of window shopping.

Happy Wi-Fi-ing!

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