The Internet's very local demand for RoboCop
Strange things can happen when the nerdy niches of the Internet mobilise. In less than a week, the wacky-yet-kindaclever idea of building a statue in Detroit of the title character from the Detroit-based 1987 film RoboCop surpassed its $50,000 goal through donations on the fundraising website Kickstarter.
It all started this February, when a flippant remark on Twitter about the city needing a statue of the android police character spurred a response from the city's mayor Dave Bing, who stated that the city had no such plans. But almost instantly, those plans organically emerged. A Facebook page gathered more than 9,000 fans within a day, and that overwhelming interest inspired a few locals to start the fundraising campaign. After its 45-day run, the "Detroit Needs a Statue of Robocop!" campaign raised $67,436 from more than 2,700 people, including one $25,000 donation from an especially interested fan. Thus a crowd of Internet philanthrodorks from all over the world—most of them from nowhere near Detroit—have effectively bankrolled this idea into reality.
Brandon Walley, one of the organisers behind the statue campaign, says the plot still resonates in a city fighting for identity and struggling to persevere. 'I don't want to take it too far, but there are these parallels with Detroit that are interesting,' says Walley. 'This city needs so much.'
Paul Serilla, Detroit, $10
First and foremost, to be quite honest, I just thought it was kind of a funny idea. I think it shows the potential of asking for help, and having a clear and manageable goal. In this case it's just a little bit of a silly goal.
Misty Mills, Detroit, $10
The city has this great, rich history that's overlooked in favour of the bad reputation. The statue is more of a symbol of what Detroit is not."
Joe Zook, New York, $1
Frankly, I didn't see it as the type of thing that would offend people who live in a city where there are literally entire blocks that have been razed or burned down or abandoned.
Andrew Hungerford, Detroit $5
Of course it is a little ridiculous. But for me that was part of the charm of it. I'm not sure if I would have contributed if I didn't have any connection with Detroit.
But not all of the project's supporters are from or even familiar with Detroit or Michigan. Paul Rooney, a Web developer from London who contributed £10, has never even been to the city.
Paul Rooney, London, £10
When I think about what I know about Detroit, it's basically cars and RoboCop.
According to organisers, about 80 per cent of donations were given by people who live outside the state. About half of those are from people outside the country. Because the statue idea and its creation are locally-led efforts, Walley says he isn't worried about the potential downsides of outsiders meddling in Detroit's affairs.
I live outside the USA. If it weren't for RoboCop I'd probably never have heard of Detroit. For me RoboCop is connected to Detroit like nothing else. I'm going to the USA next year and I'll visit Detroit for sure. It would be great if the statue were ready by then.
Ben Brown is a principal at Placemakers, a consulting firm that specialises in managing public participation for urban planning and development efforts. He says this sort of global interaction and excitement is exactly the benefit of soliciting feedback on civic ventures through the Internet. Aggregating like-minded people from all over the world to create a critical mass, he says, is a major advantage of the Internet. But he also cautions against allowing a global community too much power to influence local decisions. "If people outside the community could change the rules of zoning or building just by virtue of sending money or voting from Europe or Asia, then that makes me nervous," says Brown.
This statue will be the only reason why I would ever consider visiting Detroit.
Every city needs a RoboCop statue, but Detroit MUST have one!
Walley and his fellow organisers have been doing this sort of outreach to community groups and residents in recent months, and he says it's been good for their project—and the city in general.
A lifesize statue will not do. RoboCop needs to be 20 feet tall and standing on a unicorn or something.
Edmond Lorts, Detroit, $5
It will finally be a reason to visit Detroit.
Nate Berg, journalist, writes for Wired and Architect among others