Day 191: Neighborhood Watch

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July 9, 2012 by Alex Hoekstra

I have strong reason to suspect that I’ll soon be moving to the city.  Boston, to be precise. That’s exciting for about a dozen reasons I can think of, and probably a million more that I can’t.  New job, new house, new friends, colleagues, sites, scenes, supermarkets and subway stops.  New everything, almost…probably going to be wearing the same shoes, at least until they wear out from walking around the new streets.  When I say “new” in this sense, it of course means “unfamiliar” or “novel”, as opposed to “recent” or “freshly made”, but part of the thrill of any city is the perpetual rebirth of the city itself – a constant renewal as new developments reshape neighborhoods to match humanity’s unending quest for improvement.  So “new” really is the right word, all around.  Today’s project will help me get to know this newness all the better, and might do the same for you and thousands more.

OpenUrban is a platform for witnessing, discussing and proposing local, urban development. Built on the notion that inclusion and community engagement in public works is conducive to a better city for everyone, the software allows neighbors to map, track, discuss and share information proposed or ongoing developments around their city.

Urban planners and designers will always play an important role in cities. However, not all information or decision making on urban development resides in planning offices. Usually this information is spread across a number of governmental organizations, firms, private institutions, and media outlets, which may not be willing or able to cooperate or communicate with each other. We want to change that, especially in cities where rapid, informal or uncoordinated development is occurring. We also think it’s important for people to participate in the creation of space around them. When you’re dealing with many needs and opinions, which occurs in a city, informed consensus building is the best way to proceed. This is what Open Urban will cultivate.

I’m of the mind that an informed population is a more capable, powerful and harder-to-lie-to population.  This sort of crowd-based local information exchange is a tool I think can change the way people interact not only with their neighbors, but with their neighborhood itself.  It allows people to look at the bigger picture from ground-level, and I hope it becomes a place where myself and thousands others in cities around the world will turn ourselves into informed, engaged and effective citizens.  It will start conversations, share information and insights, and ultimately help you shape your own city.  OpenUrban’s Kickstarter campaign closes on July 13, and I hope you’ll join the effort to build it bigger, better and more open.


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