Picture yourself on a 95-degree summer day in New York City, the air so humid that the minute you walk outside you're sticky by the time you reach the corner. You're sitting there talking to a friend who, like you, grew up in a coastal city. You're talking about how strange it is that New York is surrounded by water, but it's hard to find a place to swim; how the East River seems like just a funny border between Brooklyn and Manhattan rather than actual water.
The city has public pools—a critical resource, especially for people who live without air conditioning—but there really aren't enough. You start to think about an alternative. The East River's too polluted to swim in, but what if you built a pool inside it that filtered out the pollutants?
It's the sort of idea that might occur to friends over drinks, but in this case, something actually happened. Dong-Ping Wong, Archie Lee Coastes, and Jeffrey Franklin, all designers, were looking for something new to do. "Because it was right after the recession, the offices we worked at weren't exactly holding back new clients at the door," Wong says. "We were young, and we wanted bigger projects. We had nothing to lose, and it seemed like a good idea."
Together, they built a website talking about the idea, and then things took off: blogs started talking about the idea almost immediately after it was published, and soon they had a call from Arup, the world's largest engineering firm. The Arup offices have an internal budget for experiments, and engineers there were excited about the idea of working on the project. Everyone met, and eventually it became clear that this was actually something that could happen. After an official feasibility report, the designers went to Kickstarter to fund initial testing.
Two years later, they're ready to actually start building Float Lab, a mini version of the pool that can demonstrate how it will clean the river water. A new Kickstarter invites backers to each buy one tile—inscribed with the message of your choice—to literally own a piece of it. With 1,400 tiles reserved, they can build the lab. With 5,000 tiles, they'll be able to build the entire custom filtration package.
Would they be able to build a pool in the East River without Kickstarter? "In some form, I think there would have been a pool like ours eventually," Wong says. "But it couldn't have happened so quickly. Five years ago, this couldn't have happened. How it's happened is as tied to the current moment as what it is."
This project is part of GOOD's Saturday series Push for Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.