Wall Street meets hippies as green energy turns into big business

solar phone charger

Lower Manhattan is a place that rings with “the sound of well-educated young white men baying for money on the bond market,” in the immortal words of Tom Wolfe. But these days the world’s financial center is also forging a new identify as a clean, green and always-connected community.

I took a recent walk on, and around, Wall Street, where a host of new amenities are sprouting up, including solar-powered public phone chargers outside of the Bowling Green station:

Solar charger at Bowling Green

The AT&T-supplied chargers, which let passersby obtain a quick burst of juice for a variety of mobile devices, are located near another urban innovation: a growing corridor of free Wi-Fi that runs through part of the Financial District, including Wall Street. I tried it out, and it produced a strong, reliable signal with no log-in rigamarole.

Downtown WifiAs the screenshot shows, the Wi-Fi is provided by the Downtown Alliance, a public-private organization that promotes business development and civic life in lower Manhattan. According to the group’s Marketing VP, Andy Breslau, the Wi-Fi corridor is created via relays from participating businesses, but will one day encompass “street furniture” to create an autonomous mesh network.

The district’s connected build-out will also come to include a growing number of sensors, which will help city officials measure things like pedestrian flow and decide where to place signage.

“In terms of economic development, sensors can help identify the hierarchy of needs for a space,” said Breslau, noting the process is much more efficient than using people armed with clickers to gather data. He added, however, that “engaging with sensors technology is fraught” due to privacy concerns.

For now, though, the primary use of sensors is on the “Big Belly” garbage and recycling compactors that dot Wall Street and surrounding streets:

Big Belly

Powered by solar power, the receptacles crush contents and use the sensors to send real-time information that tell authorities when they need to be collected — this, in turn, reduces the need to send noisy, soot-belching trucks into the streets.

Taken together, this combination of solar-powered tools and civic spirit show how even ruthless Wall Street is taking on tinges of a utopian community. Will there be problems? Of course: New Yorkers are still waiting for some other much-hyped Wi-Fi projects to appear, and even the marvelous garbage cans have their critics. But for now, residents can take pride that one of the world’s most famous streets is about more than just bulls, bears and bonds.

wall street wifi map

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