The Detroit area has suffered economic decline for decades, and the trend has only worsened over the last few years. Alongside a crippling unemployment rate, public goods have suffered. However, politicians and community activists have begun to leverage civic crowdfunding in an attempt to combat this troubling decline.
Highland Park, an area in Wayne County Detroit, has suffered worse than most with a reported 22 percent unemployment rate and rising local debt. Recently, Highland Park’s debt ran so deep that electric company Detroit Edison, removed a third of the community’s streetlights to compensate for their growing outstanding payments. Hindering citizens’ visibility at night does not seem to be a viable solution to the community’s debt.
With Highland Park searching for solutions, the crowd has attempted to fill this void with help from an organization named Soulardarity. They plan on replacing a portion of the city’s streetlights with environmentally-friendly solar powered equivalents. The crowd recognized Soulardarity’s efforts in 2012 as noted in a recent Sustainable Industries article stating that the “team successfully launched [a] campaign to crowdfund the first solar powered streetlight in Highland Park.”
This is a great launching point but the problem remains. 1,299 streetlights are yet to be replaced. “Soulardarity is currently in the process of holding a series of community forums to identify priority locations for the next round of installations and is working toward finding ways to move beyond the one-off crowdfunding strategy employed to date… The larger vision of the project is to install over 200 solar powered streetlights over the next several years,” said the article.
Soulardarity’s efforts are one of many in the civic crowdfunding field, which has witnessed the likes of Sustain Kansas City B-cycle and many others that use the crowd to improve their places of residence. While few expect crowdfunding to challenge state and local governments in large-scale provisions of public goods, initiatives such as these show that it can both fill gaps, as well as demonstrate to policymakers where help is most needed.
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