5 November 2020

Lowline

Context

  • Lowline is a project to transform an abandoned trolley (tram) terminal on the Lower East Side of Manhattan into the world’s first underground park
  • The project conceptualized the park, developed relevant plans and financing methods, and
    coordinated efforts with the stakeholders involved

Problem

  • New York City government would not fund the project without a proof of concept as it viewed the investment as risky
  • The proof of concept required funding of c. USD 100k which the City of New York government would not pay using tax-payer funds

Innovation

  • Lowline used Kickstarter, a global online crowdfunding platform, to finance the required full-scale proof of concept
  • Project backers were “rewarded” based on the amount of contributions pledged to the project (e.g., pledges above USD 5,000 would earn a Plant-In-City light terrarium)

Stakeholders Involved

  • Local community board — Provided initial buy in for the idea
  • General public — Invested in the project through Kickstarter
  • New York MTA — Provided access to the site for development
  • New York City Economic Development — Gave corporation the approval for the underground park

Results/Impact

  • Raised USD 155k from 3,300 backers, exceeding the initial goal of USD 100k
  • Financed a functioning full-scale model of the technology required and accompanying green park in an abandoned warehouse directly above the actual site
  • Hosted over 11,000 visitors in just two weeks, further demonstrating the project's public appeal
  • Received USD 80M from the NYC government for project go-ahead, with expected completion in 2021

Key lessons learnt

  • Developers of large scale urban regeneration projects can leverage crowdfunding to finance pilot projects, which may also serve as a channel for citizen engagement
  • Crowdfunding can be a form value-proof, with strong financial support being an indication of the project’s public support, thus facilitating buy-in from city governments as well as potential investors
  • Project initiators need to have a well developed concept and proven supporting technology, with necessary groundwork completed before going “to- market”
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