Crowdfunding Can a civic campaign restore a rural community?

3 minute read


It’s a word you see often next to: potato salad, new startups, mobile hardware, and new technology. It was even parodied by South Park this season. It’s been an innovative way for startups to get capital fast in addition to traditional routes of funding: friends, family, themselves, angel investors, and eventually venture capitalists. It by no means is a replacement for traditional funding but can help supplant stages of funding without divesting ownership of the startup. At the same time, growing infrastructure maintenance costs, public worker wage stagnation, decreased tax rates, and housing markets that have not fully recovered have seen public funds for public goods slashed to keep local and state governments solvent and operating. Projects in big cities like Portland, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Miami have been realized with the power of crowdfunding as a way to overcome these challenges. But, little - if any - focus had centered on America’s small towns. Although we at Closed Loop have covered a lot about the large urban revitalization in the States, small towns remain a large part of the American identity, and for many parts of Appalachia, represent the remaining cultural identity and connectivity left behind as mines closed and money left. A project this semester at the University of Tennessee (that I am part of) looks to investigate whether civic crowdfunding can be a viable option to revitalize small towns and provide new opportunities to areas lacking many. You can find out more about the project and donate below!

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[caption id=”” align=”aligncenter” width=”588”]Copper Basin looks to crowdfund a project as part of a larger strategy to become the greenest small town in America. Copper Basin, Polk County, TN From Appalachian History[/caption]

Copper Basin

Since the first discovery in the 1840s until the 1980’s, the SE corner of Tennessee hosted at one time the world’s largest copper resource. By as early as the 1860s, the surrounding environment was forever altered with complete deforestation to fuel the ongoing copper smelting operation and complete vegetation poisoning from the heavy sulfuric content found in the local raw copper ore. Appalachian History provides an historical account of legislation that proceeded from the extreme environmental degradation that ultimately failed, 80 years before the enactment of the EPA,and allowed the mines to continue their operation. When the mines closed in the late 1980’s, with them left the area’s major economic driver and people with high paying jobs. As statistics for Ducktown, Copperhill, and Polk County show, their economies haven’t gotten much better. But, if you relied on statistics alone, you would completely miss the spirit that looks to change this area to not only attain the level of growth the rest of TN enjoys, but to leverage sustainability as a primary growth strategy to leap frog larger cities in sustainable development.

Ducktown, TN

Emblematic of the Copper Basin region, this small town of 475 hasn’t had a lot going for it, or reasonable chances to succeed. But Mayor James Talley has crafted a larger vision towards taking Ducktown along a sustainable path as a way to find an opportunity for economic revitalization and potentially a strength over much larger cities. On my visit last month to the Copper Basin, I got to see first hand, the work he and his town have put in starting towards that goal. Between a 28 kW solar PV array that can provide up to 40% of the town’s daily electric needs (with plans to expand to 200kW to go nearly solar), to two electric vehicle charging stations downtown. As seen below, they were quite impressive.

Solar Array Installation provides Ducktown, Tn (pop. 600) with 40% of their energy needs. #ruralrevitalization #appalachia A photo posted by Alex Pawlowski (@alexpawlowski) on

Crowdfunding a Cubify Cube 3D Printer

How you can help

Identified in a class project last year, contour crafting and 3d printing could serve as part of a larger strategy to increase core competencies that help Ducktown become a center of innovation in not only the greater Copper Basin, but of Tennessee as well. This crowdfunding campaign is the next step towards that goal. With a 3D printer available to students in the Copper Basing Learning Center, 3d printing concepts and prototyping can be integrated to enhance STEAM education, building future opportunities for students that may otherwise have not had them. In addition, 3d printing looks to augment Ducktown's larger green strategy to become the greenest small town in America. And that, could be quickly realized.