The rise and rise of civic crowdfunding
Last week I wrote about a novel project being run in Bogota, Columbia that is attempting to crowdsource the funding of a new skyscraper. The Prodigy Network, who are running the scheme, offer crowdfunding opportunities for a whole host of retail projects around the world. It’s the tip of an ever growing iceburg.
We’ve all heard of Kickstarter, but a growing number of sites are looking to crowdsource local community projects. For instance, in Rotterdam a new pedestrian walkway is being funded by crowdsourcing, with people being asked to contribute €25 to help fund the project. In return they get a message etched into the bridge. Within a few months the project had reached its intended amount.
Spacehive is a similar site here in Britain. They claim to be the very first crowdfunding site for civic projects and offer people the chance to invest in a range of projects around the country. Recently funded projects have included a project to bring free wi-fi to Mansfield city centre, and to build a rock climbing facility in Minehead.
What makes it fascinating is that unlike the projects organised by Prodigy Network, investors in Spacehive projects don’t receive anything in return (other than a sense of goodwill obviously). Other civic crowdfunding sites offer investors/donors small gestures of gratitude, be that some kind of mention ala the bridge in Rotterdam, or even something as seemingly trivial as a poster to say thank you.
Such sites are certainly growing in number however, with the likes of Neighbor.ly in America and UrbanKIT in Chile all offering people the chance to help fund projects that matter to them.
Thinkers such as Steven Johnson believe this kind of civic involvement is merely the beginning. He points to the participatory budgeting in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre as an example of what can happen when you give people control over how their money is spent. The system allows citizens direct input into how their tax money is spent. The success of the system in Porto Alegre has prompted another 70 Brazilian cities to follow suit.
It’s a model that clearly chimes with the civic crowdfunding organisations. They bemoan that the present mechanism for deciding on projects is often beholden to NIMBYs who stalk planning meetings with the intention of blocking projects they disapprove of. Very few people stalk local government to get something do. The crowdfunding groups see this as a chance to change that, and to get local people involved in crafting the local environment they want to live in.
Johnson was also a staunch champion of the Finnish organisation Brickstarter. They’re hoping to release a book chronicalling their adventures in crowdfunding this month. They intend to make it freely available as a PDF and it should make fascinating reading for anyone with an interest in this kind of mechanism for funding projects.
With Deloitte estimating that crowdfunding will generate around $3 billion for projects this year it’s certainly a growing area. They also estimate that $500 million of that will be going towards civic projects where donors expect no financial return. I’ve long believed that the Internet has the potential to change how society operates in a fundamental way. It’s something Johnson refers to as peer progressivism. Civic crowdfunding on a large scale could well be a fundamental part of that. Exciting times indeed.