TED Conversations

Ziska Childs

Freelancer, united scenic artists


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How do we get back the neighborhood?

Of course I'm referencing the 2012 TED prize The talk which inspired this question has been posted: Jen Pahlka talking about "Peace Corps for Geeks" aka- coding for government. One of the ideas in that talk which resonated for me was it's not about making the bureaucracy easier- it's about solving the problems. More often than not that means getting the bureaucracy out of the way and letting people be neighborly. "Adopt a fire hydrant"- shovel it out when there's a snow storm. That's pretty simple stuff and it promotes Community - with an upper case "C".

I've seen my own home town go from a place where I could walk to everything (the butcher the baker the candlestick maker) to one where there are 30,000 vehicle round trips a day. This is for a town of 6000 residents. The service providers drive in and out for work. The residents drive out and in to go to school, the hospital, the rec center and to find lower priced goods. Employee housing (also out of town-but closer) has resulted in a boost for the construction industry which increases the service trips in and out. Placing a transfer tax on real estate has favored flipping and cowboy development. I only mention this to emphasize that treating the symptom doesn't work and the unintended consequences can be devastating.

So, how do we get back the neighborhood? How do we get back the Community?


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    Mar 29 2012: Hi Pat, (This is meant to respond to Pat Gilbert's question about metrics.)

    Great question. Admittedly, we have a ways to go in terms of the quantitative and systematic gathering of data to measure success--my understanding of "metric." But in our first year we deemed our efforts successful by: Surveys and polls taken--number of responses. Policy issues affected--City established new procedures abiding by the State open meetings act. Citizen participation--Council chambers packed to unprecedented levels on two occasions. Community First name recognition--number of times name is used by others in public meetings. Organizational rhythms established--Guidance Committee meetings monthly, special meetings to address specific issue intervention. Leadership dialogue (rich communications environment)--high number of email messages.

    As we add more community-building activities to our now established "watchdog" activities, we will be challenged to come up with more (and realistic) metrics.

    I'll be interested in your observations.
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      Mar 29 2012: I like what you are doing I think it important to create this sort of activity as it is a place where the individual can have a platform something conspicuously absent these days.

      Regarding metrics I think that it a natural tendency to get get complex with them my advise would be to keep it simple. At the same time they are important to tell you if your surveys are working, that you are resonating with the public.

      Do you guys have a bent towards the left or the right?
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        Mar 29 2012: ...the only label which really interests me is "does it work?" - (sort of like the "will it blend" series.) closely followed by "is it flexible enough to change when it stops working?"
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          Mar 30 2012: The reality is that one of those labels does what you are saying.

          This is where the metrics come in.

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