Crowdfunding and Public Participation by Ryan Henderson
In October, a neighbor approached me with an idea – an idea he wasn’t quite sure was doable in the “realm” of local government. This particular neighbor lives in a civic association that for some time had been advocating for a dog park to be built within the nearby city park. The City had committed monies to help make the dog park a reality, but the amount wasn’t enough to design and construct the dog park, and the neighborhood was asked to fund the remaining amount. The neighbor approached me with the idea to “crowdfund” the neighborhood dog park.
Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project, or venture, by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people, typically via the internet. Certainly in the past the City has solicited neighbor contributions to help with special projects and programs, however, the novel idea that comes with crowdfunding is the ability for neighbors to donate via internet in increments completely up to them. There’s a target that needs to be hit and if that target is not met then thedonationsmade by the respective contributors will not be charged to either their debit or credit card and the project does not get funded. I was asked to help setup the donation page and legitimize the process. After that, the City would be hands-off in the fundraising process and leave it up to the neighborhood to complete. We setup the project on the web portal Citizinvestor, a crowdfunding tool specifically designed for municipal capital improvements, and the association began driving people to the website to donate.
I chose to write about the concept of crowdfunding, and how it’s being done in Fort Lauderdale, in this space because I’ve been in awe how the neighborhood association has risen to the challenge of getting the dog park funded. It’s not easy to get people to donate money for a government project when they believe that their tax money should be funding it. Yet, the neighborhood has stepped up and taken on the fundraising challenge with vigor. To date, the neighborhood has raised close to $27,000 – currently only a couple thousand short of their goal. Neighbors I’ve never seen before have joined the process and have taken it upon themselves to the help the community by getting this project funded. The association pushing this project has formed an ad hoc committee made up of various residents that have become the liaison between the association and city hall. When the dust settles, and the dog park is fully funded and built, it will be interesting to see if the dog park advocates remain fully engaged in their community and attach themselves to another important project. This could be the start of a great increase in public participation in the neighborhood.