It started on Feburary 7th when a guy from Massachusetts tweeted to Detroit mayor Dave Bing that Robocop would make a great statue for the city, kind of like the Rocky statue in Philadelphia. Mayor Bing politely tweeted in response “There are not any plans to erect a statue of Robocop. Thank you for the suggestion.” Too late, a meme was born.
The idea spread like wildfire and soon a Facebook group was created by Detroiter John Leonard. The idea sparked Imagination Station founder Jerry Paffendorf to launch a KickStarter project to raise the money to actually build the state. They set the goal of $50,000 by March 26th to fund the project. A website was launched – detroitneedsrobocop.com and on February 16th the New York Times featured the story. As of today (February 19th), just 12 days since that fateful tweet, over $59,000 has been raised on Kickstarter by2187 people. Several sites for the statue have been offered and the project has galvanized supporters of Detroit from all over the world.
I wrote about Jerry Paffendorf in For the Love of Cities regarding his Loveland Project. Paffendorf had previously purchased 3000 square feet of land in the city and had begun to sell it off to people an inch at a time. The “inchvestors” were symbolically buying into the idea of Detroit and taking a piece (a very small piece) of ownership of the city. But his idea resonated with hundreds of inchvestors who bought their stake and “moved into” these virtual neighborhoods at the website. The funds raised by Loveland are being used to support other community projects, including the Imagination Station, a clean-up project that is turning two abandoned homes in the shadow of Detroit’s Central Station into public art space.
Some have suggested that this is a colossal waste of time and resources. One article called it “irony run amok” and some a concerned that a Robocop statue will dilute and devalue the public art that is already in the city. Paffendorf told the New York Times “Sometimes it takes a RoboCop to show a different way to do things. My hope is that it sets an example and puts this kind of funding on the map, so when people see big problems, they can think, ‘If crazy people raised $50,000 for a RoboCop statue, we can certainly raise more to take on something bigger.’ ”
Is one statue going to save the Motor City? No, of course not. But what this project represents – grassroots, Internet fueled efforts by people who love the city – THAT can save the city. Take this one small success, where they get people to invest a little bit of their money and time in the city. They network with each other and realize they are not alone. In fact there are many more of them out there than perhaps they ever thought (over 2100 supporters on Kickstarter and 7400 fans on Facebook). This success gives them confidence to try again and perhaps do something bigger (or more serious) next time. Repeat this ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times and that is real change. So to those that think this is a silly distraction from the city’s real problems, I say it is exactly the type of silly distraction Detroit and many other cities need.