2012-02-27

Co.Exist

In Our Backyard: Funding Projects To Make Neighborhoods Better

From innovative projects about water use to simple neighborhood composting initiatives, Ioby is a Kickstarter for neighborhood improvement, and it’s expanding from New York to the whole country.

Not in my backyard is the common refrain of people who care about the environment, but aren’t so interested in, say, seeing a wind turbine out their bedroom window. But, more and more, people are throwing out their NIMBYism and taking part in innovative projects to help improve where they live.

"[People] are hungry to get their hands dirty," says Erin Barnes via email. Barnes is a co-founder of Ioby—an acronym for "in our backyard"—which helps people fund environmental projects to enhance their own neighborhoods.

Ioby’s online platform allows anyone to propose and fund a project; it’s Kickstarter just for projects focusing on local, environmental improvement. But it also gives more than money, allowing interested supporters to volunteer to help the projects that are bettering their neighborhoods. "Ioby is all about giving regular people who want to make their neighborhoods better better places to live," writes Barnes. "Anyone with a good idea for his or her neighborhood can post it online, raise the money they need, find local volunteers, and share ideas with others searching for similar solutions to different environmental issues."

To date, Ioby has raised more than $170,000 for 101 projects. These include Velo City Bikesplorations, which teaches urban planning to underserved youth on bike rides through New York neighborhoods; Don’t Flush Me, Internet-connected sensors in the city’s sewer system alerting New Yorkers not to flush their toilets during heavy rainfall and sewer overflow events; and today’s most popular projects: community composting in Queens and raising chickens in Brooklyn’s vacant lots.

To be successful, Ioby quickly learned it had to combine crowdsourcing and crowdfunding: "Our early adopters told us that they wanted to find new volunteers, in their own neighborhoods, not from across town, and they wanted to learn from others working in the field," she said. "Good ideas need more than just money."

Now Barnes and her two co-founders, Brandon Whitney and Cassie Flynn, are planning on expanding their platform to everyone’s backyard.

"[We] founded Ioby as a national organization, and we’ve built it to scale," she says. "We’ve always known that our greatest asset would be when urban farmers in Detroit could share their innovations with others in Cleveland, and when Portland residents would teach New Yorkers about their technologies for depaving parking lots."

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