Civic Philanthropy: Transit
March 29, 2012 3 Comments
This is part of a short series on Civic Philanthropy. For an introduction, please read my first post on the subject: How Can Cities Leverage Donations?
Transit infrastructure is imperative to a city’s success. Whether by way of roads, sidewalks, bike paths, streetcars, light rail, subway, or personal flying pods, people need to get around. I believe that infrastructure (and specifically transportation infrastructure) should be at the top of a government’s list when it comes to spending money. It is a shared amenity that benefits all within the city and allows the city’s residents and businesses to function.
Unfortunately, most of our nation’s (and certainly here in Los Angeles) infrastructure is crumbling. Bridges are failing, roads are sinking, trains are slow… because the government has not invested as it should. There’s obviously needs to go around. Education is important, police are important, some of the bureaucratic positions may or may not be important… but money needs to go to lots of things. Infrastructure often gets pushed aside until it’s too late. And now, it’s getting to be too late.
Like Bruce Wayne’s father in Batman Begins, I see an incredible opportunity for cities to court businesses and individuals to help improve the transit system in their city.
There is a great example of this in Chicago, where Apple recently opened a new retail store. In the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Apple’s store was set to open across from an already existing subway station that was so run-down, riders would often stop at the next stop just to avoid the area. Apple cut a deal with the CTA to pay $4 million to renovate the station for their store’s opening. The only thing they got from the CTA in exchange was the advertising space inside the station and right of first refusal should the CTA ever decide to sell naming rights to stations. The advertising inside the station is certainly not worth $4 million. The real value in the deal is a great new public amenity that will also benefit the store’s business.
Like Thomas Wayne, Apple renovated the station as a gift to the citizens (even providing free Wi-Fi in a new plaza outside) of Chicago and as a great business decision. Apple recognized that a nice, clean, inviting transit station and public plaza would attract people who could ultimately become their customers. I’d bet that the Verizon store (and any other retailers in the area) are thanking Apple as well.
I particularly love the way this article from the Chicago Tribune reviews Apple’s work on the station and the new plaza.
It made me want to sit down on a nice day with a cup of tea and a book. OK, in gratitude to Apple, it should be an iPad, but whatever. I say thank you to Apple.
It’s the equivalent of mowing the neighbor’s weedy lawn — and paying the neighbor to let you.
Apple has created a unique space in Chicago: handsome, communal, connected to the city, a space that makes public transportation attractive.
Residents were already turning to Apple’s products and publicly thanking the company for the changes they made to the area.
Some may not quite call this “civic philanthropy” because, clearly Apple’s motives were to boost business at its new store. But if you ask me, because they invested money into a project that benefits more people than only their customers, designed a new public space, connected it with Wi-Fi, and in the process made public transportation as a whole more attractive, it’s certainly a positive contribution beyond the desire for revenue.
While the example of Apple and the North/Clybourn stop is a great example of a public-private partnership (with the private part doing it all in this case), I’ve struggled to find examples of individuals making similar positive contributions to transit. Maybe it’s because if you donate $1 million to a school, you personally (through your children) will benefit from it in ways you cannot when you donate to transit. Sure, you will benefit from the better transit system, but with that money you could just as well hire a personal driver to take you everywhere you need. Children can’t learn the same with a private tutor, as school is so much about learning social situations as well as knowledge.
In San Francisco, the Market Street Railway is a non-profit that seeks both membership revenues and donations for the F-line, San Francisco’s historic streetcar line. The Market Street Railway, however, does not operate the line and donations go instead towards the preservation and restoration of the historic cars and the operation of a museum. The actual operation of the line is handled by Muni (San Francisco’s transit agency) and the Market Street Railway is not financially connected to Muni. The Railway is more of a preservation non-profit than a transit agency.
I would love to see a wealthy philanthropist take notice of needs in Los Angeles’ transit system and help to meet them. A great opportunity exists with the Downtown Los Angeles Streetcar. Already a 501(c)(3) organization, I think that LA Streetcar should more actively solicit donations — there is a probably mostly unknown option to donate, here. This could be an especially attractive opportunity for Eli Broad, as his new museum downtown will open up just barely short of the end of the line, based on the currently selected route. With a donation to cover a large chunk of the project, he could also ensure that the line extends slightly farther, to the front door of the museum.
Transit, with its project costs often in the millions and even sometimes in the billions, seems like an out of reach area for most people to contribute, but when broken down into specific stations, lines, cars, stops, or extensions, it can become much more manageable (though probably not to the average-earning person). It would take lots of hard work, but if done rightly, cities could engage the wealthy and philanthropic within their borders to take the view of Thomas Wayne and help create connections for the greater good.
Gotham’s been good to our family, but the city’s been suffering. People less fortunate than us have been enduring very hard times. So we built a new, cheap, public transportation system to unite the city.
Who will be Los Angeles’ Thomas Wayne?
Other Posts in the Series:
Civic Philanthropy: How Can Cities Leverage Donations?
Civic Philanthropy: Education
Civic Philanthropy: Parks