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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Apple invests in public transit - with impressive, stylish results

Kaid Benfield

Posted November 2, 2010

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  refurbished North/Clybourn transit station (by: Steven Vance, creative commons license)

Check out the spiffy new subway station in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.  Pretty nice, don’t you think?  It’s actually not new but a thorough makeover, and a substantial upgrade from what it used to look like:

   North/Clybourn before the makeover (by: Kevin Zolkiewicz, creative commons license)   notice the peeling paint (by: Eric Allix Rogers, creative commons license)

It cost around four million dollars to refurbish the station.  If you’re thinking that there’s no way the cash-strapped Chicago Transit Authority could afford that, you are right:  it was funded with private money, by the Apple corporation, in conjunction with the company’s construction of a new retail store on adjacent property.

Mike Cassidy wrote in The San Jose Mercury News:

“This is not a company that leaves much to chance and there was no way the sales gurus in Cupertino were going to let a dungeon-like transit stop present the first impression of their sleek and glassy store.

“Remember, Apple sells an experience as much as it sells products.

the Lincoln Park Apple store, just before opening (by: Kevin Zolkiewicz, creative commons license)"’The public might not think of it this way, but the retail experience doesn't start exactly in your store. It starts when they approach your store,’ says Kirthi Kalyanam, a professor with the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University's Leavey School of Business.”

Apple also built the plaza in between the North/Clybourn transit station and its new store, which opened in late October.

The company would like to call the new station “the Apple Red Line Stop,” according to a column written by Mary Schmich in The Chicago Tribune.  And, while the CTA hasn’t agreed, they apparently haven’t ruled it out, either.  Schmich suggests that they may as well, since everyone is going to call it that anyway.

A friend of Schmich’s is especially fond of the plaza:

"A plaza, with seats. Like these guys weren't so terrified of homeless people sitting down that they weren't going to let anyone else sit down, either. And a fountain, that instant supplier of peace. 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."

  the new Apple Plaza (by: Ian Freimuth, creative commons license)

Part of me has mixed emotions about corporate involvement in things that used to be fully public.  Some of us are old enough to remember a time when PBS didn’t run advertising, for example, and corporations didn’t fund major art exhibits, subtly influencing their content.  But given that the public realm in the US has been allowed to deteriorate as much as it has, and so much resentment from disgruntled taxpayers about paying for upkeep and public services – especially if the services are, you know, for someone else – it’s a good thing that other entities with the means step up to fill gaps.

In Chicago, it’s a start, and a very attractive one, if only that.  Sarah Goodyear writes on Grist that, elsewhere, transit funding and facilities are suffering badly:

“Earlier this year -- just months after Apple announced its intention to renovate the North/Clybourn station -- the CTA cut service on 119 bus routes and seven rail lines to deal with a $300 million deficit. This after raising fares in 2009. Transit systems around the nation have been slashing service, laying off employees, and asking passengers to pay more at the farebox. You can find an excellent map of the damage at Transportation for America's site. Meanwhile, the tough decisions about how to fund our nation's transportation system keep getting kicked down the road.

“So, kudos to Apple for putting a shine on the public facility that will serve its eager customers. The rest of the nation's transit users are still waiting for a solution.”

Those are fair points.  But, for now, I’ll take it.  Apple and CTA certainly have done a heck of a job,

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page


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T. CaineNov 2 2010 11:38 PM

It seems to me that one of the great examples this project sets is an experiment in how our capitalist society can pull away from an ever -expanding model where corporate entities and the government/citizens are ever-diverging. Capitalism can have a tendency to get a bad wrap from those farther away from the business world due to its seemingly inherent mantra of needless, continual expansion for the quest of a fatter bottom line. They have a point.

But there are examples of companies like this, and Google is another favorite, that use their ingenuity to temper their appetites and offer back something to those from which they harvest so much. I hear your trepidation about the rocky road of pubic/private ventures, but in the end, the success of our public and private realms can reflexively benefit each other and legitimize cooperation that leaves both in a better place--if it's done right.

If more companies shared this mindset, we might have more public amenities in states of good repair.

RichardNov 3 2010 09:16 PM

What Apple did is very commendable. However, how many such projects are out there crying for such attention and how many corporations are out there that have the resources to match that number. I have no problem with Garland to Dallas Rail Stop # 9 provided by JP Morgan/Chase Bank. The question is and always be at what cost? No Garland to Dallas Rail Stops brought to you by Wells Fargo? It always comes down to the fine print.

ccwNov 4 2010 03:29 PM

apple seemed to influence the way the bart station entry design was done for the downtown san francisco store also.

Joel EpsteinNov 5 2010 12:33 AM

Good for Chicago! With everyone scrambling to find money for maintenance and operations kudos to the CTA on landing support from Apple. I argued last December that LA should do the same:

Take the (A) Train -- Your Name Here on Metro

For those who get all bent out of shape about corporate names on the stations, get over it. It's paid for!

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