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Is Crowdfunding the Right Way to Pay for Public Space?

BY Nick Judd | Monday, August 13 2012

Using crowdfunding to pay for civic infrastructure like parks and public spaces is innovative, but Ethan Zuckerman argues that it may set the wrong precedent:

Unless done very carefully, crowdfunding a city’s projects is likely to favor wealthy neighborhoods over poor ones. People in poorer neighborhoods have less to spend on crowdfunding projects, and are less likely to have internet access. If Lange’s observation that people tend to Kickstart projects they benefit from holds true, we’d expect to see a wealth of parks funded in Brooklyn and few in the Bronx.

But unfairness isn’t the only problem. If crowdfunding parks succeeds, it supports the case that governments don’t need to build parks because they’ll get built anyway through the magic of civic crowdfunding. That, in turn, supports the Norquistian argument for a government small enough to drown in a bathtub, with services provided by the free market and by crowdfunding a thousand points of light.

Is Jase Wilson, the guy who’s trying to fund the Kansas City streetcar line on a secret agent of the radical right? Of course not – he’s a well-intentioned guy who’s turning to a successful online model to support a project he cares about. The nature of unintended consequences is that they’re the downside of an otherwise worthwhile activity. Bringing neighbors together to make their neighborhood better is a good thing. Figuring out how to do it while minimizing unwanted political impacts is even better.

Zuckerman is referencing techPresident's story from late last month about crowdfunding sites that are devoted specifically to funding projects that might have come from public bond financing or tax revenue in earlier, simpler times for American cities.