+ T R A N S P O R T A T I O N
Oonee: The Next Cool Thing for Urban Transportation
By: Byron Nicholas, AICP - May 9, 2019
An Interview with Oonee’s Co-Founder Shabazz Stuart
Black + Urban had a wonderful opportunity to interview Shabazz Stuart, Co-Founder of Oonee. During an exclusive tour at one of Shabazz’s Oonee pods in Downtown Manhattan, we were given an inside look at how Oonee provides a unique and innovative service to urban transportation while providing additional public amenities complimented by a stellar aesthetic to the urban realm.
So what exactly is Oonee? According to Ooneepod.com, Oonee is “a smart, modular, customizable pod that provides secure parking for scooters and bicycles as well as public space amenities.”
The following is based on the content from the interview between Black + Urban’s Byron Nicholas and Oonee’s Shabazz Stuart.
Black + Urban: What lead to the conception of Oonee?
Shabazz: I grew up in New York and I have a great appreciation for its transit system. I love its infrastructure and mobility. I began riding my bike in Boston for college and then in New York; majority of the time it was for work. The problem was that I would get my bike stolen quite often. The fear of bike theft and bike vandalism was the primary fear that people had when using their bikes in the city. I started to wonder why an obvious and pervasive problem didn’t have a solution. Why weren’t there parking for bikes that would be safe and secure? And unfortunately, that’s a major reason why people don’t bike in the city. When my bike was stolen in 2015, I didn’t get another one until 2017.
My team started to think through all the reasons as to why cities don’t have this type of infrastructure, and we aren’t talking about one, two, three or four but hundreds. People want infrastructure that’s attractive, pretty, and iconic. However, they do not want to pay for it, nor do they want to finance it. We realized there was a conflict that needed to be solved. We needed to have infrastructure that was scalable, replicable, duplicable and deploy very quickly but wasn’t one size fix all.
The idea to include infrastructure to park our bikes safely and securely came to us back in 2015. Incorporating a structure that was identical wouldn’t fly. We would need an adaptable and malleable structure that can fit into unique spaces.
Black + Urban: How did your team come up with the name ‘Oonee’?
Shabazz: The name was conceptualized at the last minute. In fact, we were going to go with another name. My colleague who was visiting Japan at the time, called me. He said, “I got it, the new name of our product will be “Oonee”. Initially I thought, “What is an Oonee?”, and as he explained the Japanese translation of Oonee: a sea urchin, it made a lot of sense. Sea urchins are animals found on the sea bed throughout the world’s oceans. Typically they are globular in shape, adaptable, defensible, inconspicuous, but yet, alluring.
Black + Urban: Let’s talk about the Design of Oonee.
Shabazz: It’s more like a Lego set; it can be different, and it can be the same. It’s a modular way to build things on the streetscape level. That journey, that process is how we created what we have today.
We had to find out what our obstacles would be, design wise, finance wise, business model wise, operation wise, to iterate around and incorporate into the product. The idea wasn’t one central point; it was a two- year process where we went through all the obstacles and designed avenues around all the feedback we got. For example, we would have people say, “I am interested but I wouldn’t want you to drill into my concrete and have it to be permanent infrastructure”, which is how the pods became free standing.
We realized that free standing was the way to go. But that created another problem. How do you create balance? How do you allow the structure to support itself, not to blow away in a hurricane, for example? It needs to be flexible – light to transport it, but also you can anchor it in place. So that’s the reason why we incorporated water barriers.
Video: Shabazz Explains Oonee’s Design, Green Infrastructure, Public Amenities, and How to use Oonee.
Shabazz: It is all modular. Think about it less as one structure and more like connected parts. At the foundation you see the waterfilled barrier shape. It is not anchored to the ground. If you take the water out, you can pick it up in less than a day, and it would be as though it was never here. This entire thing, the doors, hooks could be interchanged. They are all interchanged parts. It has a premium look to it, by no accident, because people would say this is a marquee public space and it has to be marquee. When you guys got here, you said you hardly noticed it. That’s kind of the point. To walk by, and have the structure aesthetically compliment the rest of the city.
Black + Urban: Can you speak a little about your experience as a minority entrepreneur?
Shabazz: I am African American, but my team is diverse. Oonee’s other co-founder is Guatemalan. These days, you will rarely find start-ups to be completely minority owned because the shares of your company quickly start to diversify when you start raising money and start to sell ownership of the company.
It’s sad that we haven’t created more of an understanding for women and minority lead ventures.
Black + Urban: Why do you think there is so few infrastructures that accommodate bicycle, scooters and more “green” forms of transportation?
Shabazz: Being a policy guy myself, I’ve wondered why there weren’t any facilities that would support bike and scooters and make them available to the public. Infrastructure is wired to support transportation. The first problem I noticed was cost; no one wants to pay. The second was aesthetics, the third, operational costs, and fourth, management – we may have to hire a property owner to run this aspect. We’ve decided to create a venture that would capital all those things at once: cost, aesthetics, design, technology, and creating a business model that applied financing for the optics and management.
For More Information, please visit Oonee’s website: www.ooneepod.com/
All photos are courtesy of Shabazz Stuart
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