Monday, September 24, 2012

We're All Urban Planners?

Ioby, one of Overbrook's grantees, is the star feature of an article in Forefront, a publication of The Next American City organization. Entitled "When We're All Urban Planners," the article considers the fast-developing crossroads of urban planning, crowd sourcing, new media, and the role - small or large - we all soon could play in the development of our cities.

As municipal governments face increasing pressure both on their budgets and to be more responsive to their communities, several tools have emerged to fill the gap. One example is Neighborly, a software offering information and crowdsourcing for major planning projects proposed by cities and civic organizations. Another is city-sponsored crowdsourcing: Change by Us NYC, which awards grants to small projects. On the more technical end, there's SeeClickFix, which routes reports of potholes and other minor mishaps to the appropriate government office. But foremost in the article's analysis was ioby, which it highlighted as an organization that has managed to successfully combine community participation, small-scale projects, and a metric-focused online platform.And not only has it raised over $100,000 for projects since 2009, it has now gone national.

The article also noted the concerns raised by some that these online efforts would lead to a shifting of responsibility by municipalities. If individuals could identify and raise money to address issues like fixing potholes or building rec centers, would other traditional government roles would become community burdens?

Still, the possibilities from combining a refocus on community-level projects with new online methods for increasing communication and fundraising vastly outweigh their potential drawbacks. Certainly, Nuala Gallagher would agree - ioby helped her raise $6,200 for a chicken coop for Cypress Hill Verde. The community improvement group can now grow chickens and provide free eggs and protein to a neighborhood categorized as a 'food desert.' The project might not make headlines, but for the individuals who contributed and the individuals who will benefit, it matters a very great deal.And for a world increasingly tech-savvy yet fragmented, it may mean we can become involved in our community's development in a way never before possible; we can become our cities own urban planners.