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What GGW means to me: Mainstreamed urbanism

Greater Greater Washington wasn't the first blog about urbanism or local policy-making in Washington, DC, but it's the one that changed the discussion. It's the one that brought arcane subjects like zoning and transit planning into the city's mainstream.

Dan Malouff.

By the time I first discovered Greater Greater Washington, I'd already been writing BeyondDC for many years. I was one of a cadre of bloggers writing about development and transportation, along with people like Richard Layman and DCist's Ryan Avent.

But we were few and far between, and most of us either had other jobs or split our writing with other subject matters. DC's online urbanist community, such as it was, had no home base and no leader. We were a niche network of geeky wonks, great at expressing opinions but not so good at building broad support.

Greater Greater Washington changed all that.

When David Alpert showed up, with his mountain of energy and dedication, that was a game-changer. David had the skills and time to do what the rest of us couldn't. He went to public meetings, he drew maps, and he wrote, and wrote, and wrote. All of it was accessible to anybody. All of it was interesting, and exciting. All of it elevated the public discussion about what Washington could be.

And the readers poured in. Then some of the early readers started writing too, and the whole thing grew exponentially.

At first, I admit, I was a little jealous.

But it took me about 3 seconds to realize what was happening. A mere blog was becoming a community, and that was too wonderful a thing to pass up. I had to be part of that.

And become a community Greater Greater Washington did. With more writers and more readers, we started to have an impact. Not only on other policy wonks, not only on the editorial pages of other media, but on the tone of the discussion itself, and later on elected officials.

Now, everyone in town knows the practicality and benefits of car-free or car-light living. We can swing budgets and change construction plans.

Thanks to Greater Greater Washington, urbanists in the DC region are a political force. We've gone mainstream, and we're making a difference.

Please help us keep making a difference. Please donate what you can, so our community will still have the strong voice it needs.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


Dan is right. GGW has concretized our issues. Before GGW, they were sort of the problems that had no name. After GGW, these issues all have a lexicon that we can use to elucidate salient point.

by Cavan on Mar 5, 2014 4:38 pm • linkreport

I'll admit that when I first heard about GGW, I didn't see the need, figuring people like you and me were already covering the issues. I admit that I was wrong, although I must say I regret that in part GGW's success comes with the supplanting of voices like mine and a serious fall in daily hits for my blog.

1. Where GGW has been pathbreaking, besides having access to David's programming, graphic design, and other skills, is in creating successfully a group blog where many people contribute on a regular basis.

I tried to do that with a different blog and could never get enough people or regular contributions from the people who said they would participate.

It's hard to do and a great accomplishment.

2. The other accomplishment is the continued addition of new elements to the content program, like the videotaped interviews with DC candidates, online Q&A, etc.

3. And an additional benefit is that the blog has attracted a group of readers who also comment in substantive ways (on so many other blogs, e.g., DCist or PoPville the comments are drivel) which helps to improve and extend the discourse.

I know that I learn, get new ideas, etc. based on the contributions of commenters, most of whom I do not know face-to-face. It improves my own understandings, perspectives, and writing and I appreciate that.

3. One place where the blog falls short is in consistency covering non-DC areas. It's more hit or miss, dependent of course on who you can get to contribute and their interests.

(Also instead of seeing Jeff LaNoue--I know him and he's great--writing pieces about Baltimore here, I'd rather see a Greater Greater Baltimore...)

4. I also don't think that "the blog" or the writers understand the need to create "agendas" to shape and induce change, that otherwise there is a fine line between whining and using the forum effectively.

E.g., the snow-related articles aren't any different from previous years. There's been no contribution to upping the expectations for local jurisdictions and transit operators in a systematic way in terms of how they serve walkers, cyclists, and transit users in weather conditions.

The way to think about it is in terms of urban regime theory (from a paper by Clarence Stone):

Because governance is about sustained efforts, it is important to think in agenda terms rather than about stand-alone issues. By agenda I mean the set of challenges which policy makers accord priority. A concern with agendas takes us away from focusing on short-term controversies and instead directs attention to continuing efforts and the level of weight they carry in the political life of a community. Rather than treating issues as if they are disconnected, a governance perspective calls for considering how any given issue fits into a flow of decisions and actions. This approach enlarges the scope of what is being analyzed, looking at the forest not a particular tree here or there.

5. There are other issues, but this is enough. Again, congratulations.

by Richard L. Layman on Mar 6, 2014 12:50 pm • linkreport

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