THE BLOG
11/17/2010 11:55 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Village Green: Apple Invests in Public Transit, With Stylish Results

  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 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.

the Lincoln Park Apple store, just before opening (by: Kevin Zolkiewicz, creative commons license)

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 occasional Village Green commentary on Huffington Post and (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment on NRDC's Switchboard.  For daily posts, see his Switchboard blog's home page