‘Government as a vending machine’ of services and projects

Do you want more street lights in your neighborhood? How about a whole new park?

As cities across the country struggle to maintain services with ever-shrinking budgets, the Tampa-based company Citizinvestor has launched a pilot program that could help get those plans off the ground.

It works like this: Philadelphia’s government proposes different projects online. Then, community members chip in to fund the ideas they think are best.

“We were interested in exploring different ways of engaging the public and cultivating civic participation,” says Jeff Friedman, Philadelphia’s manager of civic innovation and participation. “And we thought that the Citizinvestor platform was very interesting.”

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Friedman says the first proposal would help plant an additional 15,000 trees by the end of the year.

Citizinvestor co-founder Jordan Raynor says the public, too, can suggest projects through a petition.

“We can take it to the people who we’re working with actively on projects, and really seamlessly make that introduction,” Raynor said. “And it’s a voice that citizens really don’t have right now.”

Does Raynor think this lets government off the hook for a project it should be paying for?

“We have a long-term goal for this company of really disrupting the way that governments choose budget priorities,” Raynor says. “That’s something that we’re very excited about, really creating kind of government as a vending machine, where people can pick and choose the services and products that they want to see in their neighborhood.”

Friedman says it would be premature to think that this type of fundraising could fundamentally change Philadelphia’s government. He believes it’s no different than donating school supplies or improving public parks.

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