Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Civic engagement, redistricting, and who knows what else...

David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington created a nifty application, the "Redistricting Game," that allows anyone with access to a computer to weigh in on the Ward redistricting process in DC.

Others have developed similar applications for use at the state level, such as in Virginia, which likely piqued David's interest. See "Va. redistricting likely to shift power north: Some sitting lawmakers could be drawn out of their territories" from the Washington Post and the Redistricting Game website for state-based redistricting from the USC Annenberg Center.

I used it myself over the weekend (my home computer and wifi system is finally now working again) and found with just a few changes--I can't remember exactly, but moving one block group from Ward 8 to Ward 7, one or two from Ward 6 to Ward 7, and a handful from Ward 2 to Ward 6--Ward 2 has lots of downtown real estate under its domain although just a handful of people live in many of these block groups--maybe 8 in total, you can accomplish all that is necessary for redistricting with minimal changes, without changing the boundaries of Wards 1, 3, 4, and 5.

Sadly, the Washington City Paper's Housing Complex blog reports in "The Committee of 100′s P.R. Problem," that somehow this interesting web application is seen by the Committee of 100 on the Federal City as a toy and demeaning of the seriousness of the civic engagement process--this despite the various iterations of web-based redistricting applications created across the country by universities and other organizations.

I myself am sometimes torn about web-based engagement. It can be deep with great breadth. It can be incredibly glib and pathetic. But there is no question that it allows for greater communication and engagement if the processes are robust. And for applications that are map (GIS) based, there is no better way to do it.

It's sad that the C100 doesn't see this and makes themselves look like Luddites in the process. Generally, I believe it is best for organizations to change with the times. Certainly, NYC's Municipal Arts Society shows that a civic organization can be around for more than 100 years and remain incredibly innovative and engaged.

DC's civil society is weak by comparison, at least in terms of organized groups, and that is a shame.

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