The Elm City’s latest technological innovation, Ignite! New Haven, has spurred excitement among residents and community leaders aiming to help the city solve the problem of perennially underfunded community projects.
City Hall’s Office of Development and Policy worked with Citizinvestor, a civic engagement platform for government projects, to create Ignite! New Haven. Founded Dec. 8, the crowdfunding web platform has piloted three projects: the creation of a New Haven public kitchen and a Youth Lacrosse League, as well as building new, more secure bike racks. So far, the projects have attracted a total of $2,068 from organizations and individual local donors. Ignite! New Haven hopes to continue working on projects in partnership with city organizations like Elm City Cycling and CitySeed — which organizes a local Farmers’ Market — to expand funding options for innovative projects.
“It’s part of the mayor’s idea to build community through these collaborative arrangements and emphasize the many things that people have in common in New Haven,” said City Hall spokesperson Laurence Grotheer, adding that the project was conceived as part of Mayor Toni Harp’s larger goal to strengthen community relations by matching investors with entrepreneurs and innovators.
Many city officials, including Grotheer, said Ignite! New Haven can be thought of as New Haven’s version of crowdfunding for civic-minded projects. The interactive site allows people who want to invest in the New Haven community to donate to specific projects or propose their own. Currently, apart from the three existing projects, two more have been suggested — one called “Veterans with Vision” and a second, a fundraiser for the Augusta Lewis Troup School Band to compete at a Six Flags competition. Members of the site can “like” projects and donate.
The crowdfunding platform extends existing city efforts to improve community collaboration.
According to New Haven Director of Transportation, Traffic and Parking Doug Hausladen ’04, New Haven is an ideal city in which to roll out the platform.
“We are a fantastically sized community — one that is small enough that you can have an impact and large enough that the impact matters,” Hausladen said.
Hausladen pointed to the Secure Bike Racks project as one that the city itself has not been able to accomplish but will likely come to fruition through Ignite! New Haven. The project aims to increase the number of bike racks in residential areas. According to Hausladen, when the city tries to fund such projects, it comes up shorthanded because his budget is often allocated towards other needs such as traffic lights and public safety infrastructure. With Ignite! New Haven, targeted buy-in allows the community to fund those ideas.
“You’re never going to see a salary for a staff member on there — our taxes pay for that,” Hausladen said.
Another effort — the New Haven Public Kitchen project, led by Nadine Nelson, social entrepreneur of Global Local Gourmet — reaches out to low-income communities by broadening people’s ideas about and fostering a more interactive relationship with food.
Other projects, like the Youth Lacrosse League, in which police officers mentor kids in lacrosse, directly reach out to impoverished communities. Sergeant Albert McFadden of the New Haven Police Department said that, because lacrosse is such an expensive sport, lower-income kids interested in lacrosse need the additional funding. He added that the program gives kids something to do and helps them see a different side of police officers.
Media coverage of Ignite! New Haven is crucial in attracting more donations, Hausladen said, but the platform has not been able to draw significant attention thus far.
He added that the platform also relies on social media and direct outreach to appeal for donations. Nelson said she has been using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, personal notes and cards to get the word out about her New Haven Public Kitchen Project.
“Anything new takes some time for people to understand and grasp,” Nelson said.
Hausladen said he hopes Ignite! New Haven will ultimately become a model for other cities.
“We are always hoping to be on the cutting edge of technology,” he said.
For the moment, the scope of Ignite! New Haven is more narrowly focused, but according to Grotheer, the mayor hopes that, over time, the programs will grow in scope and size.