You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

How a Kickstarter Proposal For an Underground Park Raised $100,000 In One Week

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, March 27 2012

An unused subterranean space under Delancey Street in New York might someday look like this rendering by RAAD Studio.

Kickstarter is playing a key role in the initiative of two entrepreneurs who are seeking both online and off-line momentum for their project to emulate New York City's popular High Line Project underground.

Dan Barasch, who has worked on social innovation at PopTech, Google, UNICEF, and the 9/11 Survivors' Fund, as well as within city government, and James Ramsey, the owner and founder of RAAD Studio, a NYC design practice, and a former NASA engineer, have proposed turning an unused trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street on New York City's Lower East Side into an underground park. A large piece of their plan is a technology developed by Ramsey that would direct sunlight below ground via fiber optic cables, allowing plants and trees to grow in the underground space, which the backers are nicknaming the LowLine or Delancey Underground.

Barasch and Ramsey have already presented their idea to the local community board, neighborhood leaders and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which leases the space from the City of New York. What the two see as the next step towards the realization of their idea is a $100,000 mock-up installation to demonstrate the viability of their project to the community, potential funders, the city and the MTA.

Building on the feedback received from members of the neighborhood, the pair turned to Kickstarter to fundraise this leg of the project, and ended up raising the $100,000 in a week. "What we found was, people really responded very quickly," Barasch said. "Hitting that in a week is an accomplishment."

He noted that the tasks the project faced were not really exciting, such as an engineering analysis and the land use review. With the Kickstarter campaign for the mock-up, "what we did was we siphoned off a portion of the work," he said, in a way that is engaging to the community with the aim of showing the technology off in a pubic place and giving the opportunity to people to ask questions about how it works.

When planning for the Kickstarter campaign began, Barasch said the two carefully considered what elements to include to be successful. ""You need a really good video, and have updates throughout the campaign, and a ton of images [that] really bring it alive visually," he said. "You need rewards and you need to tie it closely to the Lower East Side," such as with a showcase in cooperation with the Tenement Museum.

The Kickstarter campaign, which is running until April 6, so far has 2,881 backers and has raised $142,527. Rewards include LowLine buttons and t-shirts; a private party after hours at Russ & Daughters, the 100-year-old Lower East Side landmark appetizing shop; a rare 1930s photo of the Lower East Side; a photo of the abandoned trolley terminal; or an opening party or tour at the tech installation. The backers of the project are also updating supporters on Twitter and Facebook.

Barasch and Ramsey count among their supporters the co-founders of the Friends of the Highline, who, Barash said, didn't necessarily have today's online tools available to them when they were first building support. "My personal experiences working within NYC government, at Google and at PopTech have led me to pursue a cross-sector strategy," Barasch wrote in an e-mail. "Ultimately the project will depend upon support and backing from corporate leaders, foundations, individual donors, and community members alongside public agencies."

The underground trolley tunnel, officially known as the Essex Street Trolley Terminal, is one of many that the MTA has identified as offering the potential to generate revenue that could be reinvested in the subway, according to Aaron Donovan, media liaison for the MTA. Any redevelopment of the space would start with a request for proposals, which the MTA hopes to offer within a year, Donovan wrote in an e-mail.

"The RFP would solicit bids from private entities seeking to redevelop the space, and would set the parameters for permissible uses and responsibilities, and would explain how the MTA would evaluate the proposals," he wrote. He said that Barasch and Ramsey would be expected to submit their concept through that RFP process.