Cities by the People, For the People: Crowdfunding our way to Democratic Urbanism


Eric Corey Freed

“In 2014, what will be the most important MOVEMENT, PROJECT, or PERSON making a global impact on sustainable urban policy and community development?”

For too long, the form of our cities has been dictated by finance, and not by vision.  Real estate developers choose what to build based on the practical demands of return on investment and market trends.  So, instead of building what the community needs, they build three bedroom, high-end condos.  While this makes for an attractive pro-forma and raises property values, it also has some serious consequences for our cities.

Throughout major U.S. cities, development focuses on the rich or the poor, and the middle class are often ignored.  In cities like San Francisco, rents have doubled in the last few years, causing a major exodus by working class residents.  Despite this, high-end developments continue to thrive in the city.  But instead of this, imagine if cities were shaped by the desires of the people that live there?  This is the promise of a new approach called crowdfunding.

While traditional developers raise money by financing from a single source (like a bank), crowdfunding involves pooling small amounts of financing from thousands of individuals.  This frees development from the hands of developers and into the hands of the masses.  By choosing to be a backer, you are one of many supporting the idea

The basic idea of crowdfunding is not new.  In 1930, the funding for the Golden Gate Bridge came from a $35 million bond issue ( that asked owners to put up their homes or businesses as collateral.  Despite it being in the middle of the Great Depression, it passed by a three-to-one margin.  The people of San Francisco had a voice in what was built.


Fast forward to today, when ubiquitous internet and handheld computers are enabling everyone to participate in their urban environment in a new way.  In response to this, a new wave of sites, like BrickStarter (, allow people to post their vision for urban renewal and ask people to help fund the project.

You can read more about BrickStarter here:

New types of financing, such as Collaborative Fund (, pool investors who care about supporting the creative class.

Credibles (, lets you fund your favorite type of food (Thai?  Cupcakes?) to help local restaurants to grow.


CitizInvestor ( is a similar idea, but focuses on public projects such as parks and community clean up.

There’s also SmallKnot ( and SQFT (, but they are only in select areas currently.

Then there’s this:

and this:

Such ideas have the potential to transform how we get involved in urban redevelopment, and return a voice to the locals to give them a say in what gets built, where it is, and who it supports.

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