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Aaron O’Dowling-Keane – Democratising Beauty

06 May 2016

Spacehive’s Aaron O’Dowling-Keane explains how crowdfunding turned a disused flyover into an elevated park

ResPublica’s report ‘A Community Right to Beauty’ reveals what we’ve always really known but no-one was talking about – that beauty in all its wonderful, subjective glory is important. It’s important to our health, our happiness, our physical and mental well-being. It’s important to our humanity.

But even if we’re all agreed that beauty is needed in our lives, the next big question is how do we decide what’s beautiful?

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

The Wicked Queen in Snow White had a mirror to give her live updates on who was the best-looking, but in the real world and particularly in our physical environment, reaching consensus on ‘beauty’ can be significantly more difficult.

When the Eiffel Tower was first constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair, it was condemned by critics as an eyesore. Cut to 2015 and it’s the most visited paid monument in the world with 6.91 million people showing their appreciation by climbing it last year.

So when we’re shaping our surroundings, how do we get as many people as possible to have a say in what they look like? How can we empower people to create and preserve the beauty they want in their local areas?

Democratising our shared spaces

Here at Spacehive, active citizens are already taking ownership of their environment through civic crowdfunding. Our platform allows people to share their ideas for improving shared spaces, build up support and then ask people, businesses and councils to vote with their wallets, anything from £2 to £10,000, on the ideas that matter to them. Since we started in 2012, 166 civic projects worth over £4.8million have been funded.

Projects that turned a disused phone box into an art gallery, brought a sculpture walk to a forgotten part of the city, transformed an alleyway into a library (Literalley – such a perfect name) and an abandoned toilet block which became… wait for it… a street food kiosk serving local, ethical food, a micro-museum and art gallery. A pretty impressive triad.

By providing a platform where people can share their ideas and back those that matter to them we are able to democratise the beauty-making process and start shaping an environment that supports what people really need and want.

Crowdfunding in action

When Liverpool City Council proposed the removal of the disused Churchill Way flyover at a cost of up to £4million, they could have easily expected residents to be frustrated at the high cost and the unimpressive outcome. Destruction doesn’t have the same feel-good factor as creation does.

What they didn’t expect was the city’s residents to respond with their own far more exciting and affordable alternative to demolition. Something that could be used by the whole community. Something actually pretty beautiful.

Creating a park in the sky

“We see it being used for events, markets, by museums, as a cycle path… in ways that don’t exist in this part of the city.”

When Kate, Steve and Mark learnt of the council’s plans to knock down the flyover they knew they had a much better use for both the funds and the space, so they came together to form ‘Friends of the Flyover’. They used the Spacehive platform to outline how the millions that were to be spent in demolition could be used to transform the disused flyover into an elevated park instead.

Their vision was a safe, beautiful, useful space where people could travel on foot or by bike, work in collaborative workspaces, grow vegetables and fruit, sell local food and crafts in a pop-up market and even keep bees. An oasis of tranquility for the whole community to use and enjoy.

Popular support

People loved this idea! Once the project was made live on Spacehive, it was shared with friends, family, residents and businesses who all pledged their support. When the council was presented with the number of people and organisations backing the project, it was hard to deny the value in turning what had been a notorious eyesore into something beautiful so they too added their support. When everyone came together, the project raised almost £44,000 from 344 backers to get the idea off the ground.

Through crowdfunding the council could engage the community in the decision making process, harness the power of the group to bring the idea to life and have a far more positive impact on the local area. Effectively democratising people’s access to beauty.

Join us

Our mission is to transform our shared spaces by providing a platform for people to bring their civic projects to life. We work together with communities, businesses and councils to bring beauty into the places where we work, live and spend our time.

Find out more about creating projects, pledging your support or backing campaigns over at