Crowd(fund)ed cities: urbanism without experts and its contradictions

Authors: Joseph Daniels*, University of British Columbia/University of Nottingham
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: crowds, crowdfunding, urban governance, expertise, finance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Galerie 5, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Crowds have (re)emerged as a cultural phenomenon over the past decade, often eliciting fervent financial fantasies of democratic distribution and public participation. Urban governments are now turning to 'crowds' to improve public finance. Reports have indicated 45 (12 percent) UK councils are attempting to 'crowdfund themselves out of crisis' and that crowdfunding will become the de-facto community development financing mechanism for UK councils. In the US, technologies of crowdfunding are being brought to bear on the massive municipal bond market. How do we understand this emerging 'crowdfunded urbanism’ as an ‘alternative’ urban governance? Questions of democracy and expertise are central. The underlying idiom of crowdfunding, is that the crowd’s distributed knowledge is ‘wiser’ than individual experts, and because it is distributed among more people it is more democratic. This paper, traces the genealogy of how the ‘crowd’ emerged as an alternative to elite expertise in cites over the past century, transforming from ‘threat’ to ‘wise solution’ to collective urban development problems. Second, I draw on a case study of the Greater London Authority’s experiment with crowdfunding through its Crowdfund London campaign to highlight how a newly formed ‘wise crowd’ is made to ‘do’ urbanism within the context actually existing institutions of governance. And finally, I argue that while the ‘crowd’ might offer some new points of entry into urban management, it might actually be counter productive to more democratic cities if it merely results in the shifting of the site of debate from public institutions to depoliticized, private (online) platforms.

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