2012-10-01

Co.Exist

Citizinvestor: Crowdfunding For Community Projects

What’s a person to do if you want a project done in your neighborhood that the city simply can’t afford? A new crowdfunding platform lets people pay for their own civic improvements.

The recession has left hundreds of parks un-renovated, and hundreds of basketball courts unpaved. Without funds, municipalities have had to delay, or cancel, projects that otherwise would get started.

The idea of Citizinvestor is to not let good schemes go to waste. Using a Kickstarter-like model, it asks for contributions from local communities, so municipalities can go ahead regardless.

For example, the city of Philadelphia is currently asking for $12,875 so it can plant 15,000 trees. But that’s just the start. The plan is for many more, and bigger, projects than that. Cofounder Jordan Rayner says three or four other municipalities will post projects in the next two weeks, and that he’s in "active conversations" with 25 others.

Rayner came to the idea with his partner Tony DeSisto, a lawyer who sits on the City of Tampa’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee. "He was seeing all these projects the city had approved but had no funding for," he says. "They were projects citizens really wanted, and now, not in 2020. We thought 'why isn’t there a crowdfunding platform for that?'"

There are a couple of differences from Kickstarter. For one, you can petition for projects as well as contribute to ones municipalities have put forward. And two, there are no rewards, or "swag," for ponying up—just a sense of neighborly satisfaction.

Rayner admits some people won’t want to give money on top of what they already pay in taxes. But he believes there are enough "citizens who want to invest in their neighborhoods and make them better." In fact, he points out, some communities have already been collecting cash for local projects. In Tampa, for example, residents ganged together to renovate a local pool.

"We fundamentally believe that citizens don’t have an issue with how much they pay for government services. They just want more control over where their dollars are going. That’s a really important distinction."

The question is whether something like Citizinvestor could actually offer a full alternative to taxation, providing more choice and accountability in the process. Rayner doesn’t think the model could be used for basics like police, fire, or water. But he does think "there is a place for a service to make government work more like a vending machine, where I get to choose which parks and pools I want to build."

If so, crowdfunding could have as much impact in the public sector as it’s having on the private side.

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