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Jason Grill

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Crowdfunding Civic Infrastructure? The Next Big Thing

Posted: 07/09/2012 1:16 pm

Kickstarter has become a mainstream Internet mechanism where individuals can donate money in advance to help with funding an idea or platform and get a perk or product in return. Innovative recent Kickstarter projects such as the Pebble Smart Watch, Elevation Dock and Brydge have blown away expectations and proven that the crowdfunding concept works. A simple, but innovative platform for creative projects.

A group of high-tech entrepreneurs in Kansas City, Mo., witnessed the success of Kickstarter and websites like the Million Dollar Homepage and decided -- why can't we do this with civic projects? At a time where funding from local, state or federal government is a big if and taxpayers are burnt out on funding major infrastructure projects, Neighbor.ly was born.

Neighbor.ly creates a system where everyone wins through crowdfunding. Capital improvement projects under the transportation, sports, entertainment, education and public amenities umbrella are Neighbor.ly's focus. The first major endeavor is the proposed streetcar line in downtown Kansas City, Mo. So how does everyone win with civic crowdfunding? Lets take a look at the example of a streetcar plan. Neighbor.ly creator and CEO Jase Wilson believes:

The city wins because it pays less for financing the project. Citizens win because they get a new streetcar. The local economy wins because it limits the impact on taxpayers, and because the streetcar creates jobs. Basically it's a win engine. Our mission is to transform the streetcar starter line from an obligation affecting a small number of Kansas Citians into an opportunity open to anyone in the world.

So what we have here is a concept where we elevate civic pride and short circuit the political process to some extent -- a "roll up your sleeves" mentality. Ideally, people will vote with their dollars for civic projects and enhance places they care about while also earning personal or business perks. Proposed perks for the initial streetcar line crowdfunding include wraps on cars, event-orientated gifts and gear swag bags. Neighbor.ly hopes seeing your name or message on the side of a streetcar builds a sense of ownership. People will be a part of something and get value in return. In the future naming rights on stops and individual chairs, pre-buying ridership and advertising rights are all on the table.

The Mayor of Kansas City, Mo., Sly James, is on board with Neighbor.ly's innovative endeavor. I can only imagine that other municipal leaders throughout this country will take his lead on backing programs like this as it is abundantly clear that federal dollars and the political climate in Washington, D.C. aren't getting any better. Cities across the country are having big budget problems. They are facing skyrocketing interest rates on money they borrow to pay for new amenities. This makes new projects and amenities less and less likely. However, these are the very projects that raise a tax base, create jobs, and lead to economic growth and development. This is one reason why civic crowdfunding is the next big thing. I don't see any elected official being against a private entity raising money as basically a down payment on new infrastructure that elevates civic pride and builds a better community.

Neighbor.ly is starting in Kansas City, Mo., but I imagine you will be seeing leaders of civic projects such as stadiums, bike shares, neighborhood parks, museums, fountains and pavilions figuring out how to jump start projects through civic crowdfunding.

Technology, entrepreneurship and civic project funding are no longer strange bedfellows -- at least not in Kansas City, Mo. Coming soon to a city near you.

 

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