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Debate sparked by proposal to install digital kiosks on Seattle streets: Public utility or visual pollution?

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IKE Smart City is bringing 30 interactive digital kiosks to downtown Seattle in collaboration with the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA). The kiosks aim to enhance public safety, wayfinding, community engagement, and more. The devices, known as IKE Smart City, are user-friendly touchscreens that offer various apps for users to explore businesses, events, directions, and more. The project, initiated by Orange Barrel Media, will be funded through advertising revenue and aims to be operational by the FIFA World Cup in 2026.

The installation and maintenance of the kiosks will not cost the City of Seattle, with an average expected revenue of $1.1 million per year. The revenue generated from advertising will go to the DSA and will be reinvested back into downtown. The City will also share in any additional revenue exceeding a set threshold. DSA and its partners will also have rights to a portion of the content displayed on the kiosks, ensuring a mix of relevant information and advertisements.

The proposal for the kiosks received support from Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, public safety agencies, and other stakeholders who highlighted the benefits of the project. The devices will allow for improved communication during emergencies, public safety alerts, and community engagement. They will also serve as a tool to connect individuals with various services and resources, promoting safety and unity in the city.

The kiosks are designed to provide digital equity to residents and tourists by offering access to various services without the need for a smartphone. Each IKE is equipped with apps that connect users to nearby establishments, transportation options, entertainment, job boards, and more. The goal is to align the kiosks with the Seamless Seattle wayfinding program to provide a seamless experience for users navigating the city.

Despite concerns regarding privacy and data security, IKE ensures that they do not collect or sell personally identifiable information. The kiosks may include a selfie camera for a photo booth application, which requires user activation and does not retain any photos. The kiosks will not have security cameras installed, and any changes to their functionality would require approval from the City Council in compliance with local privacy laws.

While some have raised concerns about the visual clutter and potential distractions caused by the kiosks, proponents believe that the benefits of the project outweigh these challenges. The devices will serve as a platform to showcase public art, promote local services, and provide useful information to residents and tourists. The proposal will undergo further review by the Design Committee before reaching the City Council for final approval, with opportunities for public input through a dedicated website and survey.

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