Thursday, April 26, 2012

Can The Kickstarter Model Work For Local and Even State Programs Like Parks and High Speed Trains?

It’s a lazy Thursday afternoon, so it’s as good as any to put this out there.  I was trying to find out my Amazon password so I can support a couple of Kickstarter projects.  While I wait for Amazon to send me the email to reset my password, I started doing a very dangerous thing: thinking.

And I got to think about how the Kickstarter model can apply to many things, not just for iPhone accessories.  And so I thought how about public projects and social programs?  I’m not thinking anything big like trying to get Kickstarter folks to chip in for the high-speed trains in California.

Something smaller.  More local.  Like parks or stadiums.

Supposed a local city needs a new library or renovate its park.  The city can then put this out there and see if there are interests to make this happen.  As an incentive for supporting this, there will not be a need for property tax or sales tax hikes.

It could work.  Cities already do this to some extent.  They put up tax measures that gets voted whether to fund local programs like buying new fire engines or police cruisers.  Some cities forgo that and go right to fundraisers.  So, a Kickstarter for cities would be more like fundraisers.  The difference is that supporters could get benefits because of their willingness to support the project monetarily.

In a local city near where I live, there is a park that is only available to residents of the city.  The residents all pay an annual fee from their property tax to support the park.  It’s a very nice clean park that is very family friendly.  Also nearby is the Huntington Library that requires paid access. Two different approaches.  The park is only available to residents of the city but free in the sense that beyond what’s in the property tax, access is free.  Meanwhile, Huntington Library isn’t free but anyone can pay for the annual membership to enjoy it.

Huntington Library was started by Henry Huntington in 1919 while this local park born out of a special measure sponsored by the city.

Suppose another city wanted to build a park with a lake that is exclusive to its citizens but not everyone wants it.  Instead of creating a measure to be voted in, potentially creating a division within the city, supporters of the project can put it up as Kickstarter-like project that will only go forward after a funding threshold has been reached.  Once built, only those who helped with the funding and continuing support will be allow access to the park.  No one else will have access to it.

After the park is built, anyone else, those who missed out or refused to take the risk and fund it in the beginning, will have to pay extra to access the park.

I got to think about this because it is an election year and we'll be bombarded with a lot of taxing measures. And some of it doesn't make sense for everyone.  On top of that, these measures are worded in such a way that allows the state or city government to divert funds away from its intended use.

Some local projects can work better than others while others won’t work with the funding model I’ve suggested.  However, such semi-privately funded projects can require a more stringent oversight than most public programs that are simply ripe for abuse.  

So, what do you think?  Should local projects bypass new taxes and get funded only by its supporters?

I simply would love to see a city do something like this on Kickstarter.  I don't care what such a city would want but I'd support it just to see how far it gets and if it works.

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