It is amazing today how citizens can recognize their local diversity, culture, creativity, and innovation and run with it. While taking the steps to garner support from the community and pitch the idea to the city can be hard work, it can yield some truly awe-inspiring results.
Back in 1999, in New York City, residents in Manhattan’s westside proposed renovating an abandoned rail line and turning it into a park. They were successful with the campaign and eventually construction began on the park, known as the “High Line.” The park opened to the public in 2009 and was quickly recognized as a cherished green space within the bustling city. Built on an elevated railway that runs for about 16 blocks, there is elevator access and street entrances along the way.
Recently, entrepreneurs Dan Barasch, a social innovator who has also worked within city government and James Ramsey, designer and former NASA engineer, proposed turning an unused trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street on New York City's Lower East Side into an underground park. A major part 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.
Recognizing the need to look for support both online and offline, project leaders utilized the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, to get the word out about “the world’s first underground park,” nicknamed the Lowline or Delancey Underground. Beginning with feedback received from members of the neighborhood, the Kickstarter fundraiser ended up raising the $100,000 in a week!
In regard to the Kickstarter campaign for the mock-up Barasch explains, "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 public place and giving the opportunity to people to ask questions about how it works. They carefully considered what elements need to be included in order to be successful with Kickstarter -- "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.
"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."
When we last checked in with this project on Kickstarter, they had over 3300 backers and had raised nearly $156k. And an angel donor has stepped in with a challenge for the community - raise another $75k in 75 days, and the anonymous supporter will match the amount! Next steps for the Delancey Underground project include the building of a small-scale model to help the community envision how the technology would function and the stunning aesthetic elements of its installation. In September a free public exhibit will help showcase ongoing research in order to gain the community and government support to move ahead.