Posts about Blogging
Social media played a gradually growing role in Rail~Volution over the past few years. This year, panels explored topics such as blogging and how public agencies use social media.
Both David and I sat on a panel discussing the way blogging has changed the conversation. We were joined by Reconnecting America's Jeff Wood and Curt Ailes from Urban Indy. Blogging has come a long way in the past few years, and the panel discussed the influence that blogs have had on policy and organizing movements.
One audience member said she associated blogs with someone posting pictures of their cat. And certainly that sort of thing used to be a primary function of blogs. But these days, many blogs have become a major part of the conversation. In fact, blogs like Streetsblog and Greater Greater Washington are changing the conversation.
As Curt explained, the urban conversation in Indianapolis hasn't come as far as it has here. As a result, Urban Indy plays a large role in introducing Indianans to planning concepts. Curt recounted an instance where the print media came to him about a bike path. He was able to help the reporter (and the readers) to get the terminology right and understand was was at stake.
And that's really how I see the role of Greater Greater Washington. Not as a way of bringing people over to our opinion, but as a way to give people the tools they need to be a productive participant in the conversation.
And while transforming the dialog is a great thing, social media can fill other roles, too. Metro's Nat Bottigheimer mentioned in a panel an idea for a social media network geared toward transit users. It could let transit riders share their experiences, and could help new riders to learn how to get started. While a new social medium may or may not be forthcoming, it is possible to leverage the platforms that already exist.
We heard from representatives of several public sector agencies about the role social media plays in their communication strategies. The Utah Transit Authority has a strong presence in cyberspace; using Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Foursquare, YouTube, and with three blogs catering to different user groups.
I was impressed with the idea of using Foursquare and blogging to help riders (and potential riders) find things they could use transit to get to. Foursquare has always been one of the social media tools I've not found much use for. But as a spatial tool, it could prove helpful to transit agencies.
UTA's representative, Tauni Everett, also talked about using Twitter to engage the public. A recent spate of hearings about a fare hike drew less than 20 attendees to the 7 meetings held in the six-county UTA service area. But an online public hearing using Twitter generated hundreds of comments, all of which were counted in the public record.
We also heard from people from goDCgo and Nashville's MPO about different initiatives to reach out and use new tools. For planning to be effective, it needs public participation. In today's fast-paced world, it can be difficult to engage people in traditional ways. Using social media is proving to be a way to connect with new voices and regular participants alike.
In our region, agencies are using new strategies for communication as well. Metro, for example, has started to engage riders on Twitter. And the planning department there has started its own blog to help broaden the dialogue.
How do you see the role of social media and blogging as a part of the planning conversation? How could agencies like DDOT and WMATA improve? And what's the next generation of social media?
Greater Greater Washington is the subject of the cover story in this week's City Paper, about how our little ragtag band of bloggers here is getting to be a little bit influential.
If you're visiting us for the first time after finding out about us in the article, welcome! The best way to stay on top of what we're talking about is to subscribe to the RSS feed, sign up for our daily digest email, or follow us on Twitter.
What did you think of the piece?
My favorite bit is Chris Zimmerman's insightful quote about the forces shaping WMATA coverage in the Post and Examiner (though I do think Kytja Weir has been doing a great job), followed by the part about how Richard Longstreth might be able to make a persuasive-sounding case to landmark a pile of dirt. If you don't get the Eleanor Roosevelt reference, it was an allusion to Falkland Chase.
And aw, shucks, Rob Pitingolo.
Is our group too white, as DePillis wonders? It's too bad Dan Reed had decamped for grad school in Philadelphia by the time that Hyattsville meetup happened, else he'd very likely have been there. And we're always happy when Bradley Heard has time to write something. But yes, we're pretty white, as are planners in general, and it'd be really great to increase our diversity.
DePillis is pointing out an issue that I've long known we need to address. Since we don't pay anyone, I'm limited in how much I can influence this. But we're always looking for contributors, of any race, gender, age or other characteristic. The only requirement is quality, and a general fit with our philosophy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to write for us.
Richard Layman also raises a point about the challenge of building relationships with insiders versus attacking them. It's a tough line all journalists walk. In our case, we criticize agencies and officials when warranted, but also try to be be fair and understand the challenges people on the inside face.
When it comes to Jim Graham, I'd just note that I criticized the DC USA parking garage, one of the listed issues, in February 2008, March on bike parking, May twice, June, a New York analogue, March and April 2009 ... you get the idea.
The thing about Jim Graham is that you just have to understand where he's coming from. He's very much a politican, and makes decisions based on what voters want. But that means all you have to do to win is get a lot of Ward 1 voters to support your policy. He also has an absolutely first-rate staffer in charge of transportation, which counts for a lot. Finally, that quote from me at the end of that section is the only one I'd say was a wee bit out of context.
I also have just a few little nitpicks. Remarkably few, actually, given the amount of content in the piece. One of the little Metro-line graphics lists ANCs among the "anti" groups. Sometimes they are anti, but some ANCs are terrific. Last election cycle, a bunch of good candidates won many Ward 3 ANC seats, turning several ANCs from knee-jerk naysayers to constructive participants in neighborhood visioning.
Also, I wish I could take credit for the bag fee, but that one was all amazing legislative legwork by Tommy Wells and his staff.
DePillis's piece is quite balanced, and pretty accurate for an article of its length. As someone who does a fair bit of journalism myself, I know how hard it is to say a lot and be absolutely precise in every tiny, mostly-irrelevant detail.
So what if Drinking Liberally really met in Manhattan, not Brooklyn, or Jaime hadn't quite yet started planning school at the time she started contributing, or if the landmarked Brutalist church at 16th and I is Third Church, not First Church (which is up in Columbia Heights); you're not going to go fundamentally wrong reading it, and DePillis deserves good marks for a tough job well done.
DC Council at-large challenger Clark Ray is making Smart Growth a major campaign issue with a new video attacking incumbent Phil Mendelson.
Ray criticizes Mendelson for his seemingly-disingenuous foot-dragging on streetcars and for his opposition to the Wisconsin Avenue Giant. He also created a special page on Smart Growth comparing himself and Mendelson.
As Lydia DePillis points out, Mendelson has his strengths too in this area, like a stellar environmental record and good work chairing the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee, including sticking up for pedestrian safety.
DePillis also gives us a nice compliment:
The most interesting thing about Ray's video, though, is that the smart-growth crew has made itself into a constituency to be courted. It centers around Greater Greater Washington, where Ray clearly got much of his ammunition. But its power became clear when thousands of calls, e-mails, and tweets poured in to defend streetcars when they were threatened by Vince Gray's 2:00 a.m. switcharoo. That's what political power is: When elections become about your issues, you've essentially won.Aw, shucks.
Here's the video:
This week is Digital Capital Week, and today's theme is Media 2.0, meaning there are a lot of events about the future of media including a few where I'll be speaking.
From 1:30 to 3:30 this afternoon, I'll be joining folks from OCTO, DDOT, the Post, and OpenPlans for a panel discussion on "Online Engagement and Sustainable Urban Mobility." A number of breakout discussions will follow, facilitated by folks from WMATA, the Office of Planning, Development Seed, OpenPlans, Prince of Petworth and FixMyCity DC.
It's at EMBARQ, the World Resources Institute's "center for sustainable transport," 10 G Street, NE next to Union Station.
And this evening, ReadySetDC is holding another of their "Art of the Blog_" discussions, where I will discuss urban development and blogging.
That event is 6-8 pm at the H Street Pop-Up Lab, another experiment in "Temporary Urbanism" where with the consent of the DC Government, a vacant library kiosk at 13th and H, NE will become a creating and meeting space for Digital Capital Week.
Finally, next week I'm joining Virginia Tech's Ralph Buehler for a panel on "Smart Mobility for the 21st Century" organized by the Goethe-Institut, Heinrich Böll Foundation, and WABA. That's 6:30-8:30 (with my panel at 7) at the Goethe-Institut, 812 7th Street, NW.
The rapid and intense backlash against DC Council Chairman Vincent Gray's cutting streetcar funds was a great victory for transit advocacy, but it was also a great victory for "social media"
It was amazing to see the speed with which the news and calls to action spread, which according to Council officials generated over 1,000 calls to Gray's office within the span of only a few hours, most before the Council even took its vote. It's also interesting to see the way reporters responded to this. Most talked about the effect, but a few mysteriously left social media's role out entirely.
Our report was very quickly picked up and reconfirmed by many other blogs. DCist, We Love DC, Prince of Petworth, Frozen Tropics, The Hill is Home, H Street Great Street, Life in Mount Vernon Square, the Sierra Club's Streetcars4DC, and many more asked people to call Gray's office, in most cases well before the vote.
Twitter, too, lit up with the news. Our first tweet was retweeted with and without modifications numerous times; According to bit.ly's summary, it got 388 clicks and 70 "shares" on Facebook, and 47 retweets, which don't even include the ones using Twitter's "native retweet" functionality. And that was just one tweet from one blog. Here's the one for DCist's first tweet. Dave Stroup, Frozen Tropics, and numerous others kept tweeting developments in the story and snarky jokes about the situation.
The development even drove some people and groups to start using social media. A new Twitter account, DCTransit, appeared yesterday right after the Council vote and started tweeting developments quickly. Lisa Rein from the Post seems to have joined yesterday as well. Social media often grows in spurts around big events; maybe this will drive even more Twitter usage in the DC local news space.
Loose Lips Daily writer Jason Cherkis calls "excellent coverage" the final Post article from Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart, which is indeed excellent in its analysis of the political calculations and motivations going on, but the words "blog," "Twitter," and "Internet" appear nowhere in the article, an odd omission given that the Examiner, WBJ, and City Paper (as Housing Complex) talk about the role of social media.
In the past, an activist group like Sierra Club might have sent out an email alert, but most people would have read about the issue in the newspaper the next morning, TV that night, or heard about it on the radio. Some people might have been watching Channel 13. But to generate 1,000 calls to a Council office in a few hours would have been unlikely on such short notice.
This time, Sierra Club still played a huge role, but used blogs and Twitter to magnify it. The public statements of officials still influenced opinions, but were spread rapidly by social media. And new activists, like bloggers and readers of blogs, mobilized in the span of hours in a way that wouldn't have been possible before.
Maybe that'll be the subject of the next article in the Post. Meanwhile, Mr. Cherkis, we encourage you to subscribe to at least a few blogs, like your predecessor did. The day's news is still illuminated very much by the Washington Post, the Examiner, the Business Journal, WTOP, the City Paper and more, but that's not all there is to it.
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