Maybe coincidence or maybe fate. At bloomfield knoble, we’re just started working with a client to concept a crowdfunding project. Lo (people don’t use “Lo” enough anymore), I crack open my New Scientist, and here’s an article by Lisa Grossman about how crowdfunding is starting to take root.
People are doing it for themselves. New crowdfunding platforms are popping up all over the world to allow citizens to fund public projects, from park benches to community centres. “People can collectively buy improvements to their neighbourhood as easily as buying books online,” says Chris Gourlay, founder of London-based crowdfunding firm Spacehive. Gourlay got the idea for Spacehive while working as an architecture and planning reporter. As the UK economy tanked, funding for public spaces like playgrounds and sport facilities more than halved. The crowdfunding model, where interested companies or individuals pitch in to fund projects for a few pounds each, had already been proved successful in the tech start-up world by companies like Kickstarter.
“The idea was maybe there’s a way of using the Kickstarter model to pump the same kind of investments and creativity into the planning sector in the UK, at a time when the gap between expectations and what people were actually getting was widening,” Gourlay says. Spacehive launched in March. It offers a list of projects that people can pledge money towards. The money is only taken once the total funding needed has been reached, with the site charging a small fee on each donation. Already pledges have enabled the Glynoch community centre in the UK to reach its funding total, after residents had spent seven years in limbo while the bureaucratic process rumbled on.
Similar ventures are emerging around the world, from a bridge in the Dutch city of Rotterdam being paid for plank by plank to Brickstarter in Finland and US companies Citizinvestor and Neighbor.ly. “The idea is catching on,” Gourlay says. “There’s a sense that this is a timely thing.” Part of this timeliness is the recession. These projects are largely born of necessity, says Jordan Raynor of Citizinvestor. “You might ask, doesn’t government already do this? Don’t we already pay taxes?” he says. “The short answer is, at a time when government budgets are tighter than ever before, governments are just not performing a lot of the city services they have historically performed.”
For instance, in February 2010, the city of Colorado Springs turned off a third of its streetlights in an effort to close a budget gap. Individuals could “adopt” a streetlight for $100 to $240 apiece, depending on the kind of light. The city is finally bringing all the lights back on this month. This shows people are willing to pool resources when taxes fall short, says Raynor. Crowdfunding sites may just make it easier. But is this really a good idea? Some worry that this strategy might make rich neighbourhoods richer, as they collectively fund nicer parks and wider boulevards, while poor neighborhoods struggle. But Raynor insists that because Citizinvestor lists projects from cities’ existing wish lists, wealthy areas funding their own projects should free up city funds for poorer neighborhoods.
Longer term, civic crowdfunders want to spark a city planning revolution. “We have a vision of getting government to work a little more like a vending machine. I put money in, and get out the things I want,” Raynor says. Gourlay agrees. “In an area of public life – planning – which most people think is opaque, unresponsive and not for them, you can shorten the time between expression of what they want and when they actually get it.”
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