Flipping the script–CNY Speaks writes the post and I comment. Thanks to Greg Munno from the Post-Standard and CNY Speaks
I love this post, even though it contains a fair amount of criticism of a project that I am truly passionate about.
The reason I love it is that it eloquently articulates exactly what CNYSpeaks needs to do in order to be successful. It also gives me a chance to clear up a few things about the project. I’ll take a few of Phil’s comments point by point.
1) Mobilize into a group with a sense of common cause.
This is exactly what we hope we can accomplish with CNYSpeaks. We’re in the initial stages of starting a conversation about downtown Syracuse, a process that also entails trying to capture and distill other conversations about downtown that have been taking place for some time. If we can get enough people to join in this conversation, I believe people will start to coalesce around the best ideas and start pushing for their implementation.
It is true that we picked the first the topic ourselves. We selected downtown because we thought it would interest people from many walks of life and from many parts of Central New York. We do believe that everyone has a stake in downtown. We also thought, with a mayoral election looming in 2009, that the timing was right to have this conversation.
It’s our goal to have future discussions spring from the citizenry in a more organic way, and one of the first posts on the CNYSpeaks blog invites people to weigh in on what those future topics should be. The whole “cool downtown” thing was really just a quick and easy (and, unfortunately, flip) way to talk about the project. It is not just about being hip or retaining young people. It’s about a livable downtown; a downtown that works for commuters; a downtown that feels safe for families; a downtown we can all be proud of.
2) Develop a coherent and practical list of changes they want to see.
Once again, this is exactly where we are headed, we hope. I personally think there already some amazing comments on the blog, although you do have to wade through some negativity to find them.
Remember, we’re just getting started. The ideas are going to keep coming, both online and in the forums we’ll have in the fall. I think we will be able to formulate a coherent list of changes that a substantial portion of the Central New York community will endorse.
3) Target the folks with power to make the changes, negotiating if possible, protesting if necessary.
We have a new county executive already on record as saying the health of downtown is important to her, and already on record as saying she’ll pay attention to CNYSpeaks. And next year, we’ll have a group of mayoral and council candidates that would be foolish not to embrace recommendations for downtown that spring directly from the citizenry.
It is certainly true that the paper and the University are powerful interests in the community, there is no reason to deny that.
But let’s look at what that means for this project.
First of all, when it comes to SU, the involvement stems from the passion Grant Reeher and Tina Nabatchi, as individual Maxwell professors, have for deliberative democracy. My understanding is that higher ups at Maxwell and SU have blessed their involvement, but this is not a case of an 800-pound gorilla throwing its weight around. Rather, it is a case of two smart people saying, “Hey Greg, if you’re going to do this project, it might help if you had a clue about what you were doing, and we may be able to help.”
As for the paper/Syracuse.com — we’re not as powerful as we used to be, and this project, in part, is a recognition of that. It used to be that you could not really consider yourself involved in the community and not read the paper. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore. One of things we want to do is once again become a tool of the people who are passionate about this community.
One power the paper still does have is the power to amplify voices. In the past, those voices were often the voices of people already in power — the “experts,” the “decision makers.”
CNYSpeaks is a departure from this. The voices we want to emphasize now are the voices of the citizens of this community. It’s through this amplification that CNYSpeaks can give people and organizations more power than they would on their own. And I am now taking my direction as a journalist from CNYSpeaks participants instead of from the editors here. People talk about the need to move the Common Center, so I write about where that project is at. People debate the safety of downtown, so I crunch some numbers. Through CNYSpeaks, average citizens have become my assigning editor.
This is a good time to mention that many organizations in our community, including SUN, give citizens a way to organize, to connect and to engage issues of importance. CNYSpeaks does not seek to usurp or replace or co-opt these efforts. Rather, we want CNYSpeaks to be a place where citizens not involved with other groups can have a voice, and we want it to be a tool that existing groups like SUN can use to help amplify their own messages. Consider CNYSpeaks in general, and me in particular, as a tool you can use to get your message out.
Finally, Phil, you are so right that real change happens off-line. The blog is just a way to get the conversation started and to keep people informed about the project. The real work will be done at the forums, and after. The dates for the initial forums in early October are on the blog, and we’ll make a big push to get the word out come September.
Thanks so much for the chance to respond. I encourage any of the readers of this blog to contact me with questions about CNYSpeaks.