Hereâ€™s another post in my Genius Business Idea series. My goal in this series is to show how entrepreneurial opportunities are everywhere, contrary to the common myth people who say they want to start a venture but don’t: that they haven’t found a great idea yet.
This project is challenging, more for bureaucratic reasons than technical, but there is ample precedent of people overcoming similar challenges in New York. Read below for a list of examples. If you don’t live here, I expect you’d have an easier time than we would.
This one came from talking to a city employee tasked with improving neighborhoods in New York. While bureaucratic approval would be difficult, there is plenty of precedent for beautifying many shared public spaces, especially in New York City, and many confluences of interest.
Having installed commercial and art work in subway systems around the world, I know that from a safety and technical perspective, these things are possible.
The unmet need
Many large cities, especially New York City, see huge numbers of people use its subway stations. Citizens often see their home stations twice daily. Everybody wants to feel safe. Many people want to give to their community. Subway systems also respond slowly to community interest, if at all.
New York City’s subways stations are rarely inviting. Some are decrepit. Compared to other cities’ systems, New York’s look old and run down. Meanwhile, public private partnerships are beautifying parts of the city all over, for everyone’s mutual benefit.
Allow the community around a subway stop to improve a station. Yes, that entails a lot, but people have built and renovated subway platforms for over a century. We know how to do it safely. Relying on the subway system, at least in New York, means waiting years or decades for improvement. Participants could include residents and businesses. The process would have to include the transit system, particularly its engineers, who know safety and other regulations best.
Renovating one platform would be a major project, but all the parts to make it happen exist—the engineers, businesses to support it, artists and designers to design it, and so on. The missing element would be the project leader—a role you could take.
Regulatory constraints still allow a variety of improvements.
Off the top of my head I can think of several major projects that seemed harder than renovating a subway station but succeeded.
- The High Line
- Wollman Rink in Central Park
- Much of the Central Park Conservancy‘s work
- Arts for Transit and its many projects
- Ice skating in Bryant Park
Want to do it?
If you like the idea, feel free to run with it. You wouldnâ€™t need that much capital to start it, mostly creating relationships with people who worked on the above successful projects and local people interested in improving their stations. I’d look for a pilot project—maybe a station in particularly desperate need of repair or where a nearby business wants to support the renovation. You might get to work with celebrities, like the High Line project did.
I don’t see how you can lose working in this project. If it doesn’t succeed, you’ve only spent your time, but even then you could have gotten a lot from it, mainly by developing relationships with people who succeeded before. You may not get rich doing it, but you’d gain notoriety and connections. And you’d help make the city beautiful and, if things worked like the High Line, start a trend.
I havenâ€™t searched to see if people are doing it already.