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New interactive kiosks provide extra information downtown, elsewhere

ST. LOUIS – At about eight feet tall, the new interactive digital kiosks downtown look like Paul Bunyan’s cellphone. In fact, some city officials hope they’ll make a giant improvement in how area residents, tourists and even homeless people get what they need to know about St. Louis.

Like a cellphone, you can use it to find out about restaurants, businesses, hotels and attractions. The homeless can discover information about shelters, food banks and job openings by pressing it and scrolling up and down to the button for what they need.

Unlike a cellphone, it’s hard to lose it, because there are so many of them. Seven of them rolled out downtown on Wednesday, along with one in front of Crown Candy. Jacob Long, Mayor Lyda Krewson’s director of communications, said 50 more should be available throughout the city this year, with more coming in 2021.

On a frigid afternoon on Wednesday, Long stood at the kiosk on the northeast corner of Market Street and Tucker Boulevard and demonstrated what it could do. 

“Think of it as similar to the front of your smartphone, and you open it up and have a number of applications here,” Long said.

Then he placed his fingers on the huge touchscreen and pushed. 

“One that is particularly important is the ‘get around’ application. So you pick it, and you find out where you are.”

The interactive Smart City Digital kiosk outside the Civil Courts building at Tucker Boulevard and Market Street downtown. (Courtesy of City of St. Louis)
A map of the area around that kiosk appeared and showed the location of such things as MetroLink stops in red and bus stops in blue. There also were places to summon a Lyft or Uber driver. Need to bring the information you found with you? You can text it to your phone.

IKE Smart City is providing the devices after the city, the St. Louis Development Corporation and several community groups selected IKE through a competitive process. It’s free to taxpayers; IKE will get its money through advertising and sponsorships. 

IKE Smart Cities provided the first interactive kiosk system to Denver in 2015. Since then, it has provided them to San Antonio; Baltimore; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Coral Gables, Fla.; and lastly, St. Louis. The company is working on installing systems in 15 more cities. 

“We’re always looking for ways to better serve the public,” Robert Gaskill-Clemons, Chief Technology Officer for the City of St. Louis, said in a news release. “The mission of our smart city initiative is to improve the quality of life for all people. The kiosks program is just one of the ongoing smart city efforts we have in the City and puts new, innovative technology into the hands of our residents and visitors.” 

To improve safety, the kiosks provide extra lighting to sidewalks and have a two-way 911 call button. They also provide emergency announcements of such things as Amber Alerts and severe weather watches and warnings.

The kiosks respond in 17 languages and serve as free Wi-Fi hotspots. They are ADA-compliant.  

Officials of city business districts and neighborhoods who want to have kiosks in their area may contact Gaskill-Clemons directly at gaskill-clemonsr@stlouis-mo.gov.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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