Monday, April 12, 2010
On a recent trip to new york, one element of the local lifestyle that i was completely surprised by was the use (and mis-use) of umbrellas. New York City had seen less than one full rainy day, and almost every garbage can on every corner was completely full of tattered, busted umbrellas. Thousands of broken umbrellas sit in garbage cans, on the street, in subway stations, all over the place every time it rains.
I asked friends who live in Manhattan and Brooklyn about the issue, all of whom had been completely desensitized to it. "You can buy one of those cheap umbrellas for three dollars at any news stand in New York", one of them told me. I remember leaving my friend Ruth's apartment in Brooklyn on a rainy morning. She pointed at an umbrella in front of her brownstone, still intact, and told me "just grab that umbrella, no one owns any umbrellas here".
Is there a way to develop a product in which New Yorkers can stay dry, without generating as much umbrella waste? Like most products designed for a social change, doing so will require looking at the problem at hand, and designing a product as well as a system for that products use.
My proposed solution is a network of public umbrellas, placed around the city's subway entrances and news stands. The umbrellas will be designed to withstand rain and extreme wind conditions, using materials that have been tested to do so. The umbrellas will be designed using a standardized system, meaning if or when they do begin to wear, citizens or employees of the city can easily repair them without any irregular tools.
In terms of developing a system, the umbrellas could be picked up and dropped off at any of the other umbrella stations. Giving people incentive not to keep the umbrellas in their apartment, or away from the network could be done through implementing the metro card system into the umbrella system. Users could swipe their metro card. The card could be placed on hold (not valid for rides until the user checks an umbrella back in), or a certain value could be held in case the user doesn't return the umbrella.