Huffpost New York

Quinn and City Council Turn to Kickstarter to Jumpstart Jobs

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By Jill Colvin

CITY HALL -- City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is hopping on the Kickstarter bandwagon in an effort to jump-start jobs in low-income neighborhoods. 

In her State of the City address Thursday Quinn announced a new partnership with the Lower East Side-based crowd sourcing site, which allows people to raise money to launch new projects and business ventures through small donations online. In exchange for pledging, supporters can win rewards, like free services, once the project is off the ground.

The site has proven to be a powerful fundraising tool, from helping teachers in cash-starved public schools buy supplies to financing concerts, documentaries and art installations.

Now Quinn wants to use the site to boost investments in neighborhoods with high unemployment rates. Beginning this spring, the City Council will be launching its own page on Kickstarter highlighting businesses and projects from a different neighborhood each month.

"Every month, the City Council will highlight a new set of people, people who are working to transform their own communities," she said.

The council will also be working with the city’s Department of Small Business Services to identify in-need neighborhoods and reach out to those who might be interested in floating ideas.

"With Kickstarter, people all over the city, residents, they'll have a chance to contribute to projects in their own neighborhoods. And people all over the world, they'll be able to support New Yorkers who are making a difference and giving our economy a boost," Quinn said.

In her speech, Quinn pointed to one successful project, the Brownsville Student Farm Project, which was able to raise nearly $25,000 to build a new urban farm on a 7,500-foot abandoned city-owned lot.

Its director, former full-time Connecticut farmer Nora Painten, 29, said she got the idea for the project after moving to the city last year to run a summer food program for kids in East New York.

"While I was out there, biking through Brownsville, I noticed there were a lot of vacant lots and eventually found one in a corner that I thought would be a great place to grow food,” she said.

While she was able to negotiate a deal with the city to lease the land for free, she quickly discovered she needed to raise a lump sum of seed money before she could begin raising chickens and growing tomatoes, eggplants, asparagus, garlic, corn, collard greens, ochre, spicy peppers and kale on the land.

"It is really hard for businesses to get capital when they don’t have any feet to stand on to prove they can do what they want to do," she explained. So she turned to Kickstarter, raising more than $24,000 from 284 backers over the course of a month.

In exchange, investors won several fun perks, including the opportunity to harvest their own veggies, get a chicken-catching lesson and even name one of the chickens the farm hopes to raise.

Construction is set to kick off this March and Painten has already begun working with students at the nearby P.S. 323, which will be using the farm as learning space when its up and running.

"They are so excited about it," she said of the kids. "They just can’t wait to step in and get their hands dirty."

Quinn said she hopes others will want to invest in projects like these.

"Who doesn't love getting to name a chicken, right? How often does that happen in this city? Never," she said.