About two years ago, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) started a program in which they match money raised through crowdfunding for placemaking projects. Crowdfunding is the name for raising money for a specific project through a web site such as Kickstarter. The Louvre has used crowdfunding to purchase and restore art (including the Winged Victory), musicians use it to raise money to make a record, and now, local governments use it to pay for placemaking projects. In this case, MEDC is using a web site called Patronicity, where you can see projects that are currently fundraising, and those that have been funded.
After my snarky “how many trends can you fit into one program” knee-jerk reaction, I started to really like the idea. And then I started to really REALLY like the idea.
Community members – not just city or county agencies or developers – put skin in the game to make the project work. Citizens and businesses have to want the change in their community to make it happen. Cities have to work to get widespread buy-in, help their citizens see the value in projects. And I love that people are willing to put money into public improvements, over and above what they already pay in taxes.
The MEDC matches the crowdfunded amount dollar for dollar up to $50,000. Projects can be
- Public plaza and green space
- Access to public amenities
- Farmers markets, community kitchens, pop-up retail/incubator space
- Alley rehabilitation
- Any other place-based or public space improvement project
So after two years, has the MEDC program been a success? According to the Patronicity site, most projects have been successfully funded, from Ironwood to Detroit. We funded two great projects in downtown Cadillac this summer: a badly-designed parking lot was renovated with more public space and a little less parking, and next spring we will have a new pavilion for our farmers market. The city raised over $100,000 locally for these projects, mostly from small donations. (Both are within a block of my office and will be great additions to our downtown, so I donated to both.) It also worked in Royal Oak’s new park, a splash pad in St. Johns, and public art in Grand Rapids. My favorite (after Cadillac’s projects) was an old copper mine’s drill shop in Calumet turned into a curling club (and space for hockey and other activities) – check out the photos of this super cool historic building.
As far as I know, this is the only State of Michigan funding specifically for placemaking. There are a lot of grants that contribute to placemaking – trails grants in the DNR, for example – but that were not created specifically as placemaking grants. Wisconsin has a crowdfunding program, but it’s for funding small business startups, and participants become shareholders. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be catching on. (When a state agency doesn’t promote its successes, it needs either a new PR department or a new program.)
So in spite of my initial snark on Michigan’s crowdfunding program, I think it’s a creative idea to bring broad local support to a project. And now I love it.
Tell me what you think about crowdfunding. Have you contributed to a project (Patronicity or any other)? Why? I am working with a museum that's considering a crowdfunding project and I would love to hear your thoughts. You can use the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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