A crash course in changing the world.
Jim Henson once said coming up with good ideas is “just a matter of figuring out how to receive the ideas waiting to be heard.” In my hometown of Buffalo, NY many good ideas are not being heard. Decisions that affect our city are being made with limited
information to draw upon for inspiration and strategic planning. Therefore, the goal of ReBuffalo.org is to revitalize Buffalo, NY through online collaboration.
ReBuffalo.org (http://bit.ly/dlqnlt) will be a forum for disseminating information and fostering collaboration among the residents of Buffalo. It will give people the information and tools they need to join forces with like-minded individuals who are passionate about helping their community.
As one of many “Rust Belt” cities surrounding the Great Lakes, Buffalo is considered by some to be a city that is in a perpetual state of decline. Though this perception is
not entirely accurate, Buffalo has for many years been facing some intractable
crises. ReBuffalo.org will change the perception that many people who reside
both inside and outside the city have about Buffalo. ReBuffalo.org will change
these perceptions by turning our current crises into opportunities for forward
thinking and collaborative action. These crises/opportunities include the
- According to the most recent census Buffalo is currently the 3rd poorest city in the country. There is a tremendous opportunity for innovative education and job
- Buffalo has one of the largest housing vacancy rates in the country. There have already been many great ideas proposed for tackling this problem. ReBuffalo.org will provide the tools necessary to turn these ideas into housing reclamation projects.
- Western New York is divided into countless municipalities. Many people who live outside the city nevertheless care deeply about its future. ReBuffalo.org will break down the barriers between city, suburbs, and exurbs that have held back progress.
- There is a huge disconnect between government and citizens. ReBuffalo.org will give both sides a chance to build trust and work together toward shared goals.
ReBuffalo.org will effect change in these and other areas by bringing people and ideas together in a forum that will facilitate new alliances and projects. Though the
crises/opportunities listed are those that I consider the most significant, it
is important to note that I will not be driving this bus. The goal is simply to
build a better bus and then allow the Buffalo community to grab the wheel.
Buffalo needs a new paradigm for solving our problems and steering a course for the future. ReBuffalo.org will give anyone with internet access the ability to submit
content and learn about innovative ideas and concepts from the worlds of
academia, politics, and community activism, and it will provide an “ideagora”
(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideagoras) that is available to anyone and
everyone who has an interest in the future of Buffalo. The site will crowdsource community activism, urban planning, and political reform. It will act as an antidote to what Keith Kahn-Harris and David Hayes describe as “The Politics of Me” (http://bit.ly/tF8C). Writing about the typical blog, they stated that “what is striking is that few of the comments really engage with the piece they are supposedly commenting on.” ReBuffalo.org will discourage this trend, changing the way Buffalonians interact and allowing them to work together in a way that will allow for real progress.
Buffalo has plenty of citizens with the passion and know-how to bring about positive change. What it doesn’t have is a tool that will bring all that passion and know-how
together in a way that will facilitate collaboration. If connected with like-minded individuals and organizations, these people could do even more good things for our community. In her book Wiki Government, Beth Noveck lays out a series of ground rules that are necessary for true online collaboration. Among these rules are:
- Design for groups, not individuals.
- Use the screen to show the group back to itself.
- Divide work into roles and tasks (Noveck, p.172).
Despite the presence of many great local interest websites and blogs, there is currently no website that can do this.
Like the site itself, the development of the site will be a community effort. Having lived and worked in Buffalo for the entirety of my 30 years, I now have a network of
friends and acquaintances that share my passion for Buffalo. Having attended or
worked at several universities in Buffalo, I have access to individuals who can
be part of a steering committee that will make decisions about how to design
the site. Through my work with various nonprofits I also have connections to
various community groups that can join this committee. When the site is
complete these organizations can spread the word to others about the benefits
that ReBuffalo.org can provide to their organizations and the wider community.
It is also my hope that local government officials will find this site useful
for tapping into ideas and potential projects.
With the help of a local graphic designer I have developed a logo for the site. The next step is to begin designing the website, but in order to do that I will need to pay a
web designer to create the site. The first $1,000 dollars that this project receives
will provide a small part of the funding necessary to hire a great web designer.
This web designer must be capable of creating a site that is both extremely
user friendly and innovative in its design. I also hope to find a web designer
that will be as excited about the ReBuffalo idea as I am.
As difficult as it will be to figure out the web design details this will be a minor challenge compared with what will need to happen once the site is complete. ReBuffalo.org will go against some well established social and political norms, and there are always risks in doing something that goes against the grain. The motto of
ReBuffalo.org (ReBuff Cynicism, ReBuff the Status Quo, ReBuff Politics as Usual) is an attempt to address these risks right from the start.
These three forces are the biggest challenges facing ReBuffalo.org. Buffalo is sometimes called the “City of No Illusions”. We have seen many promising projects and “silver bullet” schemes for the revitalization of our city never get further
than the drawing board. Nevertheless, ReBuffalo.org asks users to put aside
cynicism and focus on the problems at hand. As in any community we also have
many defenders of the status quo. Whatever their motivations for blocking
change, ReBuffalo.org asks these friends and neighbors to view our community as
a continuous work in progress. There is also the issue of politics that must be
addressed if ReBuffalo.org is to be successful. Though political maneuvering
and deal making is often necessary, good policy often gets lost in the shuffle.
Policy, and not politics, must be the focus of our government. ReBuffalo.org
will give our community the tools to craft better policy by promoting partnerships between government and private citizens. It may be a challenge to get city and county government to buy into this idea, but we must have that buy in if the site is to reach its full potential. The recent Extreme Home Makeover episode filmed in Buffalo showed how much private citizens can do without government support, as so many volunteers showed up that the project went from transforming one home to renovating the entire neighborhood. But make no mistake, government still holds the keys to a great many doors, and we need government participation to make ReBuffalo.org a complete success.
Fortunately, it is not hard to find people with a passion for revitalizing Buffalo. Perhaps because our hometown has been the underdog for so long, there is no shortage of citizens who are ready to contribute to this project. As the website begins to get off the ground it is these individuals who will give the site its power by
contributing their passion and commitment. With their help we can ReBuffalo.