Crowdfunding gives rise to projects truly in public domain

The "+Pool" is an initiative by a design trio to bring a cross-shaped floating swimming pool to New York's East River. The pool would be filled with water filtered from the river that it floats in. (Photo: Playlab)

The “+Pool” is an initiative by a design trio to bring a cross-shaped floating swimming pool to New York’s East River. The pool would be filled with water filtered from the river that it floats in.
(Photo: Playlab)

Pooling money for a cause online gets a new spin as small donors help lay the foundation for major municipal innovations, galvanizing communities.
When money for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal ran short, publisher Joseph Pulitzer launched a call for donations in his New York newspaper and raised more than $100,000 in six months. About 125,000 people contributed $1 or less.

That was 1884.

When three 20-somethings came up with “+Pool” — the creation of community swimming pools that float in New York’s polluted East River and are filled with filtered river water — they put their plea out on a website and raised more than $41,000 within a week.

That was three years ago.

Similar ideas, more than a century apart.

Crowdfunding, the cyberpractice of pooling individuals’ money for a cause, so far has centered on private enterprise. It’s now spreading to public spaces and other community projects that are typically the domain of municipalities.

The global reach and speed of the Internet are raising not just money but awareness and galvanizing communities.

SmartPlanet.com recently reported that crowdfunding capital projects is gaining momentum, giving communities part ownership of everything from a 66-story downtown skyscraper in Bogota to a bridge in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Several websites such as neighborland.com and neighbor.ly are platforms to raise money for projects ranging from planting fruit trees in San Francisco to building a playground that accommodates disabled children in Parsippany, N.J.

“Community groups are increasingly ready to challenge cities’ plans,” says Bryan Boyer, an independent consultant and adviser to The Finnish Innovation Fund SITRA, a think tank. “We’re all learning to live in the context of a networked society.”

Crowdfunder, which connects entrepreneurs and investors globally, just launched a local version — CROWDFUNDx.

“It’s bringing it out to the community level,” says Chance Barnett, Crowdfunder’s co-founder and CEO. “It gives entrepreneurs a place to plug in and rally around the community.”

“All this is to create better downtowns and better features within a neighborhood or town,” says Alex Dodds, online communications manager for Smart Growth America. “Fundraising for great public projects has long existed. It’s just coming to the Internet now. It’s such a direct way for people to voice what they want to see happen.”

The three behind +Pool — architect Dong-Ping Wong, 31, and designers Archie Lee Coates IV, 28, and Jeffrey Franklin, 28 — put their fundraising appeal on Kickstarter, the first public project on the crowdfunding site that’s better known for launching products and commercial ventures.

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