Houston City Council

Houstonians Will Soon See Digital Ad Kiosks Pop Up On Sidewalks

The city is setting up the kiosks as a new revenue stream, but not everyone is happy about it.

AP Photo/Richard Drew
In this Aug. 15, 2016 photo, a man charges his phone at a wi-fi kiosk on Broadway at 86th Street in New York. Houston City Council voted to allow similar kiosks across the city.

A divided Houston City Council on Wednesday approved a contract with a St. Louis-based company to install 75 digital kiosks displaying ads and way-finding information, not unlike a big smartphone screen.

Mayor Sylvester argued the kiosks, provided by IKE Smart City, are a much-needed revenue source and a helpful innovation already popping up in many other cities.

"It works very well for people who are visiting our city, conventioneers, people who are coming to these conferences and looking for places to go," Turner said.

But the plan did get pushback. Michael Kubosh, Amy Peck, Greg Travis, Robert Gallegos, Mike Knox, David Robinson, and Sallie Alcorn all voted against the ordinance.

Heather Houston, with Scenic Houston, said the group has been advocating for ad-free streets and roads for 40 years.

"We don't support digital advertising in public space," Houston said. "We never have. That's just something we can't get behind."

After a long debate, council voted 10-7 in favor of the plan to install digital kiosks.

The ordinance included an amendment from District C Council member Abbie Kamin that added district council members to the list of people who will be notified about a potential kiosk location — though they won’t have authority to stop them.

The mayor's office will have final say over where the kiosks are placed, but Houston said she’s concerned that community members won’t be able to veto a location.

“Property owners and business owners, they’re not going to have any say-so of location, and that could be a real problem for some constituents,” Houston said.

But others agreed with the mayor, including Mayor Pro Tem and District E Council member Dave Martin, who argued the kiosks would be a useful public service in Houston.

“I actually used them in San Antonio when I went to a wedding there,” Martin said. “We navigated around the city by using the kiosks. Not the smartphone, but the kiosks.”

He urged council members to vote in favor of the kiosks as technological innovation, dismissing concerns from members of the public who called in to Tuesday’s council meeting in opposition.

“Cell phones were supposed to be the arch-enemy of mankind 15 years ago,” Martin said, “and now everybody and their brother — including the homeless — have cell phones.

Martin also said opposition to the kiosks was a generational issue.

“Here I am as a 60-year-old trying to talk to people on technology, and all I heard from (public comment) were a bunch of old people,” Martin said. “I didn’t hear from a lot of the smarter young people that want to take this city and move it in a different direction.”

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