“Change by Us,” a social networking site, is intended to increase civic participation.
Civic participation is no longer only face-to-face.
“It’s a new age with new ideas, and the old, archaic ways of spurring change within a community should be re-evaluated, if not completely abandoned,” said Julia Klaiber, the director of external affairs for CEOs for Cities.
The company was a driving force behind the creation of “Change by Us Philadelphia,” a recently launched website that lets local citizens suggest ideas directly to local officials in an open forum.
The site allows for citizens to make teams for projects, share ideas between one another and officials, and provides informational resources for different groups around the city that can assist with any suggested ideas.
As one of the website’s founders, Klaiber said that the purpose behind the site was to put real citizens with real problems closer to people in power.
“What we are really doing is reinventing civic engagement,” Klaiber said.
Klaiber said that one of the website’s biggest advantages is that it utilizes social media, which she said is a more effective and efficient way to express concerns and suggestions than more traditional forms of communication such as town hall meeting-type gatherings.
“Public meetings are an antiquated venue for progress,” Klaiber said. “Their combative nature usually results in a zero-sum game.”
Klaiber said she also sees the dominance of technology in our society as an incentive for civic engagement to adopt a more modern impetus.
“With the rapidly increasing role of technology in our everyday lives it is imperative to adjust how communities will be able to meet and express opinions between one another,” Klaiber said.
Klaiber added that the website will be more effective in addressing and tackling issues.
“[It will create a] better dialogue through engaging citizens with politicians, and by allowing people to share ideas with others in their own community,” Klaiber said.
The site started in New York City earlier this year, and expanded to Boston, Seattle and Philadelphia. Klaiber said Code for America, another founding organization, aided in its expansion.
Currently on the Philadelphia site, there are more than 40 projects being shared and discussed by local citizens, and the number has continued to rise everyday.
One of the ideas that has gained followers, headed on the site by, “Paul v” is “VIADUCTgreene”–a project to transform the Reading Railroad Ninth Street and City Branches.
Two other users have signed on as members of the project, and the website has already listed two resources in the form on non-profit organizations that are relevant to the project’s needs.
Website user, “Andy D”, has already responded, adding that the project would “be the beginning of the revitalization of that area and add more green space to Philadelphia.”
Its creators said this is how the website is supposed to work.
“Basically, the whole idea of the site revolves around this one question: How can we make smarter, safer and greater neighborhoods?” Jeff Friedman of the civic innovation and participation of the Mayors’ Office, said.
Friedman cites the creation of the website as the need for citizens to have an open forum to promote interactive dialogue between citizens and government officials, making their ideas more organized and accessible to the entire community.
“People thought it was good to have a social networking platform for our city for participation space, something that would have a more direct link to our city’s leaders, and a more direct and decisive way to promote change,” Friedman said.
Khoury Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.