Crowdfunding has been popularized through web sites like Kickstarter for projects such as indie films, and bands that partner with their fans to support the production and distribution of new music.
Now crowdfunding is making a contribution to civic projects, resulting in more people directly supporting and funding them.
Crowdfunding is simply the direct funding of an endeavor, be it a creative project, charity function, political campaign, or otherwise, by private individuals who are part of the general public. Using crowdfunding for civic projects gives people a way to sidestep some of the common obstacles that keep civic projects from being built. Those obstacles include lack of funds and bureaucratic roadblocks or “red tape.”
Civic projects may be underfunded for a variety of reasons, including a diminishing tax base or shrinking state and federal government aid. In addition, many municipalities are saddled with increasing maintenance costs for previous infrastructure as state and federal governments have decreased funds. This all adds up to funding shortages for new projects, even if they are popular and desired.
Crowdfunding for civic projects provides a way for interested people to engage in getting projects built and to offer projects they want to see built, as opposed to simply approving or rejecting projects brought by councils and government officials.
Liverpool’s flyover parkways
The citizens of Liverpool, England, have raised more than £40,000 to study turning two elevated roads, or “flyovers,” into parkways for pedestrians and cyclists, similar to New York City’s High Line and Sydney’s Goods Line.
After the City Council recommended the removal of the Churchill flyover, Liverpool citizens organized Friends of the Flyover to push for the transformation to a parkway. Kate Stewart, a member of the group, highlighted the civic involvement exhibited for the project.
“What has become really important to the campaign is how strongly people feel about it,” Stewart was quoted as saying in The Independent. “That is the benefit of the crowd funding process. The city has really taken this to heart and seized the ambition.”
Friends of the Flyover used the crowdfunding site Spacehive to build support and funding for the project.
“This represents a growing trend for people taking the public realm into their own hands and using civic crowd funding as a way to enhance the environment. Anyone with a great idea can get it out there,” said Andrew Teacher, policy director of Spacehive.
Crowdfunding for civic projects in Australia has lagged the UK and US so far, but Australian website Citiniche uses the crowdsourcing model to facilitate residential building projects.
Citiniche's web platform lets potential buyers suggest a niche, or the type of project they would like to buy. Developers can use this info to start creating projects, with the goal of turning potential buyers into actual buyers to fund the development. Citiniche’s core team of Ivan Rijavec, Adam Smith, Brian Ashton, and Dan Oxnam offer professional expertise in property development, architecture, urban design, planning, and digital technology.
The web site Neighbor.ly links investors with projects listed by municipalities, government entities, public/private partnerships, and private/nonprofit organizations that work on civic projects such as bike shares. The site lists projects by genre, such as urban design, green space, transportation, and dogs.
The Idea Garden@The Lab Miami, for example, raised $31,895, or 106 per cent of the goal, to develop a creative green space in Miami’s Wynwood arts district. Neighbor.ly says they require project owners to guarantee that funds raised will be used as promised.
Citizinvestor is another web-based platform that helps fund local government projects that have official support but lack official funding. According to the site, “Any government entity or their official partners can post projects to Citizinvestor.com.”
Citizens then donate to the projects they like, and can monitor the progress of the projects after they reach their funding goals. Donations are tax deductible. Projects funded successfully have included a mobile farmers’ market in Massachusetts, a park observation deck in Colorado, and a community garden in Philadelphia.