2 NATION’S CITIES WEEKLY
May 7, 2012
Crowdsourcing’s golden moment
by Neal Peirce
consumes close to 4,000 words
on Wikipedia -- fitting enough
for an electronic encyclopedia
that’s being updated 24/7 by
more than 85,000 active con-
tributors scattered around the
It is by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of citizens
going online, suggesting ideas to tackle problems, then
commenting on each other’s ideas.
lous ranting gets sidelined. The
best ideas rise to the top as the
participants vote on each other’s
proposals. The “crowd” then
becomes personally engaged in
actual design and strategy to
make the idea work. In the
most successful crowdsourcing
efforts, Cunningham insists,
the ideas gain such support and
momentum that city halls have
no choice other than to become
supporters and implementers.
Cunningham calls the concept citizen-led regeneration,
the topic of his forthcoming
book, “ReCivilizing.” This first
major work documenting the
phenomenon is scheduled for
publication next January.
One exciting new development: crowdfunding to finance
smart crowdsourcing ideas
designed to make cities safer
or more beautiful or more welcoming places to live. There
are even websites -- kickstarter.
com, for example -- which lists
promising projects that seek to
elicit contributions from interested viewers.
Two New York City architects had a vision of turning a huge abandoned Lower
East Side trolley terminal into
Delancey Underground, the
world’s first subterranean park.
Needing $100,000 to do the
design, they posted their project
on kickstarter.com and 45 days
later had $155,186 from 3,300
In New Orleans, commu-
nity activists needed $4,000
to turn an unsightly vacant
lot into a community farm.
Within a month they’d reached
their goal. The formerly dead
space is now alive with growing
crops, and the fresh produce is
improving local diets.
But crowdsourcing has many
more forms. One of the best
known is SeeClickFix, a Web
tool (and mobile phone app)
that invites citizens to report
neighborhood problems -- from
broken street lights to uncollected trash to unsightly grass
on abandoned properties. In
each case, the report goes onto
a Web-based map and local
government is automatically
informed. Users can even add
video or picture documentation.
Founded four years ago
in New Haven, Conn.,
SeeClickFix has expanded
to about 25,000 towns, with
especially strong networks in
New Haven and Philadelphia.
Several major newspapers now
follow it for local news, and the
service also works to promote
Boston has a highly successful Citizens Connect smart-phone app for city maintenance,
which officials say not only gets
problems fixed but helps build
public trust in government.
Indeed, “establishment” support for crowdsourcing techniques is growing rapidly. A
leading example is the “
collaborative citizenship” project,
Change by Us, developed by
urban imagineer Jake Barton’s
Local Projects program in collaboration with CEOs for Cities
and funded by the Rockefeller
and Knight Foundations.
The idea of Change by Us
-- based on a successful “Give
a Minute” initiative in Chicago
and Memphis -- is to invite
residents’ ideas for civic solu-
tions, help form project groups,
and then assist them in locating
funding. Change By Us is now
operating in expanded form in
New York City, Philadelphia
and Seattle, with the blessing of
the cities’ mayors.
Neal Peirce’s e-mail address is
© 2012, The Washington
Post Writers Group
The opinions expressed in this
column are not necessarily those of
the National League of Cities or
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Nation’s Cities Weekly
Volume 35 Number 18 | ISSN 0164-5935 | May 7, 2012
Official publication of the National League of Cities
Helping City Leaders Build Better Communities
Donald J. Borut, Executive Director
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