Marion's CCTE Blog

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Friday, December 16, 2005

IE Project- A Recap

As I’ve blogged about throughout the semester, I dedicated my IE project to helping West Siders for Responsible Development. The community group has been fighting to stop Extell Development Company from building two high-rise towers on Broadway near 100th Street. While the group had incited several protests and attracted a growing number of local residents, they have not fully tapped the power of social software to help advance their cause. My goals were to help the group spread the word about Extell’s plans, to help them recruit the support of more UWS residents as well as community outsiders, and to identify communities confronting similar challenges in order to join forces or gain insight based on their experiences.

Board members were thrilled that I wanted to help them create more of a web presence so that they could connect with more Upper West Side residents and community groups. I started by creating a wiki that includes the following: background on West Siders, a link to their Bloomberg petition, contact information for city officials, sample letters to city officials (in English and Spanish), recent news stories about the group, information about recent and upcoming events, and an overview on how individuals can get involved. Board members agreed that the information in this resource was necessary and much more extensive than the information on their blog, which they used to post occasional announcements. They were concerned, however, about the risks of using something that’s open source. Their current plan is to transfer the information from the wiki I developed onto their blog. In the meantime, they have committed to activating the links on their current blog. They also decided to create a master mailing list and data bank so that they can increase their online activity (to date, most of their communication with members has been through direct mail).

My other efforts have been less successful. With the help of Jonah, some Web research, and a few NY Times articles I recently blogged about, I have identified some local organizations that are confronting similar development issues. I proposed that West Siders for Responsible Development join forces with these opposition groups to stop all of these projects. If these groups unite in their struggle to resist irresponsible development of this kind, they will likely have more power and influence. While my primary contacts at West Siders agree with this, I’ve had trouble establishing connections between these groups.

I am proud of my efforts thus far to introduce West Siders to the potential benefits of social software. At the same time, the process of change has been slower and more frustrating than I anticipated. If a primary goal of this project was to learn firsthand how hard to is to build networks and foster change using social software, that goal was certainly achieved.

Thanks for a great semester, everyone! See you online…


Friday, December 09, 2005

Last week I came across a New York Times article about a development plan that threatens to gentrify Manhattan’s west side in ways similar to the plan proposed by Extell Development Company. General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church plans to knock down a four-story building on its campus in Chelsea and replace it with a 17-story building. The seminary would take up the first four floors, and the Brodsky Organization (the real estate company), would use the top floors to build luxury apartments in a glass tower.

Unlike the Extell plan I previously blogged about, this proposal is still in its early stages. While Extell was able to build “as-of-right,” the seminary still has to get the plan approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and receive a special zoning permit from the City Planning Commission to construct a building that well exceeds the legal limit for the area.

Just as Upper West Side residents object to Extell Development’s plan to build two large towers, Chelsea residents are furious about this proposed development project. As described in the article, 75 Chelsea residents expressed their objections at a neighborhood meeting.

I have proposed that West Siders for Responsible Development and the Chelsea residents join forces to stop these development projects in their tracks. I would also like them to join forces with the Broadway Dance Center, located on West 57th Street. It is one of the largest dance studios in the city and has been around for more than 20 years. As the landlord of the building, Extell Developtment Company’s newest plan is to push them out of the building so they can develop the property.

I believe that these three examples reflect how the real estate market is squeezing “real people” out of the city (artists, teachers, etc.) to make room for wealthier residents. If these opposition groups unite in their struggle to resist irresponsible development of this kind, they will likely have more power and influence. While social software would facilitate communication and planning between these groups, those spearheading the opposition efforts do not seem to be of the “social software generation.” My initial efforts to build virtual bridges between these groups have stopped short of being productive.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Navigating Terra Incognita

In Linked, Barabasi describes how the Web is fragmented into four major continents due to the directedness of the links. Amidst this fragmentation, there is “terra incognita” (p.162), areas of the Web that remain undiscovered by search engines and are unreachable by surfing. He explains that Web is full of “disjointed directed paths” (p.167) that dictate the Web’s navigability.

Following Barabasi’s reasoning,, the strength of a webpage’s presence and accessibility is almost exclusively dictated by the number of links attached to it. I’m still unclear, however, about how important it is for these links to be relevant to the website’s objectives or target community. Is there really value in establishing links between sources that are inherently unrelated? For example, if I get 20 opera singers and 50 ice-cream truck drivers to link their personal websites to the blog developed by West Siders for Responsible Development, will that really help the organization in any way? Will this linking alone rescue them from the “terra incognita” that Barabasi describes?

The answers to these questions will help me plan my next course of action with my issue entrepreneurship project. I have gotten very few responses from organizations whose interests I thought were very similar to those of West Siders for Responsible Development. Is it better to keep pursuing those organizations or to broaden my efforts to organizations and individuals whose interests seem only marginally aligned?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

I’ve gotten some solid feedback on the wiki I’ve been setting up for West Siders for Responsible Development. It’s not the hippest thing in the world, but it seems like it will serve its purpose until they decide how much money (if any) they can invest in a flashier resource. Once they approve of the content, I’m going to share it with a few other organizations I’ve been hearing about (mostly from Jonah—thank you!!!) I briefly met a couple of board members last week. It’s nice to be able to attach at least a couple of names with faces. I’m planning to meet with Toni, my primary contact, sometime this week. She seems uncomfortable interacting online, which is probably a main reason why they’ve relied mostly on regular mail to communicate with their members.

Toni is excited about the wiki in that it will allow other members to contribute to information upkeep. However, she worries that the fact that it’s open source will make more work for her by creating content management demands that haven’t exist before. How worried do you think she should be about people posting inappropriate/inaccurate information? Also, how vulnerable is a wiki to spam and things like that?

Citing Barabasi’s Linked, Molly and Stephen recently blogged about the vulnerability of networks that depend on one person. It seems that West Siders is in a position of this kind—without the continued devotion of a few core members, the network would likely fall apart. As Stephen touched on, a network can become stronger when it allows people to explore their passions, beliefs, perspectives, and aspirations. I hope that, by increasing the online presence of West Siders, the network will be strengthened through the recruitment of more people who care about the issues and principles embraced by the organization. This resource will also hopefully result in increased interaction among members and, in this way, enhance feelings of community and cohesion within the network.

In Where the Action is, Dourish describes Heidegger’s concept of “being-in-the-world.” He writes, “…as we act through technology that has become ready-to-hand, the technology itself disappears from our immediate concerns. We are caught up in the performance of the work; our mode of being is one of ‘absorbed coping.’ The equipment fades into the background.” When working with social software, it seems that the magic happens only once you’ve reached this stage—finally, you stop noticing the mediated nature of the communication and you can actually get something done. It’s a struggle to achieve this level of comfort, and it requires motivation, trust, and courage to so drastically change the forms of interaction you’ve always used. I hope that my efforts with West Siders for Responsible Development will jumpstart their journey to this point. Once this happens, I think they would notice an increase in productivity, organization, and a strengthening of their network.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Since my last posting, I have been able to make contact with Toni Cindrich, the Treasurer and Tech person of West Siders for Responsible Development. She is relieved that some help is on the way. Toni explained that she's been operating as a "one man band" and it's become overwhelming to keep up with emails and questions about the growing organization.

Toni expressed interest in upgrading from their blog to a
website. In response to Ulises' suggestion, I proposed creating a wiki instead. I explained that a wiki would allow other members of West Siders to contribute updates, post articles, make relevant announcements, etc. This would, not only foster the ongoing participation of members and an online community, but would also relieve Toni of some of the burden she's been feeling by allowing others to keep information up-to-date.

I created a shell of this wiki and I'm awaiting her response.
In light of the fact that most of their active members are older folks who don't have internet access (according to the VP I spoke with), enhancing the organization's web presence in this way could help attract younger group of people who may not be aware of the organization or Extell's development plan. Before I proceed, though, I want to make sure she's comfortable with this type of format.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Conversation with Miki Fiegel Picinich

This morning I had a long discussion with Miki Fiegel Picinich, President of West Siders for Responsible Development (see my previous posting for background on this organization). I called Miki because I hadn’t gotten a response from the email I sent last week explaining my interest in using social software to help stop Extell’s development project. The person who receives the emails has been out of town.

Miki was pleased that I’m using the issue entrepreneurship project as a way to get involved with their organization. She said that their most active advocates are elderly community members. This likely explains why they haven’t developed much of a Web presence- Miki explained that many members do not have access to the internet. Posters, handouts, and mailers are the dominant means by which they spread the word about meetings and protests. It is quite possible that the organization is not reaching more tech-savvy individuals who would get involved if news delivery and communication were facilitated online.

I told Miki that I would like to help them create more of a web presence and link them to more Upper West Side residents, community groups, advocates for affordable housing. She agreed when I suggested that their blog could benefit from more background information on the development issue. I said I would provide this information on my blog and link it to theirs (I may ultimately decide to post that information directly to their blog if that makes more sense). I also said I would round up recent articles about West Siders’ struggle with Extell and make links available from my blog.

Miki mentioned that there’s a community group in Park West Village (Columbia Ave. between 97 & 100th St.) that is protesting a similar development plan and has expressed interest in joining forces with West Siders for Responsible Development. It seems that communication between these organizations has been predominantly face-to-face. I would like to help facilitate online communication and news sharing.

Miki said she would put me in touch with Toni Cindrich, the Treasurer and tech person. Hopefully Toni will give me some details about their current online communication strategies and efforts. In the meantime, I continue to gather news about the organization and brainstorm ways to maximize the value of my contributions.