American cities are on the rise. Their resurgence is about building a strong sense of community around smart planning and innovative ideas, like using crowdsourcing as an urban improvement tool.
For instance, take Jersey City. Once known for its deteriorating rail yards and rampant corruption, it's now a rapidly growing urban oasis flourishing as one of America's most diverse -- and safest -- cities. A big reason for its growing popularity is the engagement of residents. This is not happening by accident.
The opportunity for the cities of the 21st century to thrive lies in moving from antiquated ways of communication and engagement to using emerging technologies as a resource to escalate feedback. It is more than just tweeting or Facebook posts, especially among young adults. Millennials are different. They are eager to serve their communities though technology that at the same time is individually empowering. Millennials are pretty much the opposite of their parents in that they are less ideological and socially more tolerant. They also are technologically advanced enough to find ways to bring about change far more rapidly than generations past.
In Jersey City, we tried to capitalize on the increasing number of millennials becoming residents by using crowdsourcing to fund for a public project and it actually worked. Working with a local community organization, Sustainable Jersey City, and the Jersey City Art School, BikeJC used the crowdsourcing site ioby.org to raise tens of thousands of dollars in just six weeks for the installation of hundreds of bike racks throughout the city. The crowdsourcing surpassed the initial goal and illustrated the demand for creating better neighborhoods for biking. Residents were able to drop a pin on a Google map precisely where they wanted a rack and then donate with the result being exactly what they envisioned.
As importantly, it showed city residents, who previously might not have been involved much in civic affairs, they have a voice that can bring about change. In Jersey City, we will be using crowdsourcing not just to raise funds for future needs but also to learn where and how government resources should best be used -- community petitions for stop signs, for resources, for traffic changes. To help build strong cities, residents must feel they have a voice. Crowdsourcing is the next valuable tool government leaders should encourage.
It's a model that makes sense for other cities as well and shows that while Congress might be as dysfunctional as ever, local governments can and do make differences every day in residents' lives.
Steven Fulop is Mayor of Jersey City, NJ.