The Post-Standard is working with Syracuse University to create a web-based experiment in civic participation, entitled CNY Speaks. While it is an interesting experiment, I wonder just what it is attempting to accomplish.
Now I’ve been scribbling on these interwebs for several years, but I don’t have any illusion that I’m having an impact on anything. This site is a scratchpad for me to work out the ideas in my head. But the CNY Speaks agenda is much more ambitious. They want to create “a citizen’s agenda for Syracuse and Central N.Y.”
I believe that citizens can change their world when they:
1) Mobilize into a group with a sense of common cause.
2) Develop a coherent and practical list of changes they want to see.
3) Target the folks with power to make the changes, negotiating if possible, protesting if necessary.
None of these points are accounted for in the CNY Speaks world.
group with a common cause? Who knows, the cause was chosen for them. Even though the site has a survey to gauge the opinion of visitors to the site, it’s really meaningless because the blog, since its first post, has been dedicated to making downtown cool for young people to live, work and play. The writers have bought the Richard Florida, “hip downtown=regional economic development” argument hook, line and sinker.
Practical and coherent list of changes? All I see are puff pieces on downtown development, the groups like MDA and their youth auxiliary 40 Below and bland marketing ideas about various development projects on the blocks. Oh yeah, and a bunch of internet trolls complaining about how dangerous it is to venture anywhere near downtown.
targeting those with power? First, this site is a wholly-owned enterprise of those with power, the Newhouse Corporation paper and the University. Secondly, how is even the most pithily worded blog post going to influence anyone? Change only happens offline. You have to mobilize people to put down their mouses, change out of their PJ’s and get out to public meetings. Lastly, many folks are leery of directly challenging those in power when they say no. I don’t see this exercise in PR helping to mobilize people to challenge those in power.