Facebook for cities: A social network for building better neighborhoods

Recently viewed in Gary Hustwitt’s Urbanized , I was interested to see this post on the application of artist Candy Chang’s method of eliciting public participation, especially in  ad situation where the “public” have planning and “participation fatigue” as  in New Orleans where she pioneered the process. By Claire Thompson on grist


What would you do if you had a million bucks to make your neighborhood better? Turn the vacant building up the street into a healthy corner store with cross-cultural appeal? Fund 24-hour bus service? Paint giant flowers on the asphalt in every intersection?

What if there was a tool that made it easy for you share your idea with neighbors, community groups, city planners — people who could pitch in to make it a reality?

That’s the idea behind Neighborland, a sort of collective online urban planning platform that grew from a project started by artist Candy Chang in 2010. Chang slapped nametag-style stickers reading “I WISH THIS WAS ___” on abandoned buildings around New Orleans. People answered by filling in the blanks with all sorts of things they’d like to see in their neighborhoods: a grocery store, a row of trees, a bakery — to which someone else responded, “If you can get the financing, I will do the baking!”

“People were trying to talk to each other,” says Alan Williams, Neighborland’s director of community, who met with me on a rainy day in New Orleans two weeks ago to show me some of the group’s work. “What if [the conversation] wasn’t lost to time? What if people could share knowledge and expertise?”

Neighborland allows the kind of organic conversations started by the stickers to happen online, where they can build momentum and facilitate connections. Neighborland users (there are a core group of them who engage regularly, Williams said) post what they want for the city overall or for a specific neighborhood, and others can click “me too” or comment. Ideas can be sorted by most recent or most popular. Suggestions range from the general (“I want more food trucks in New Orleans”) to the specific (“I want an African-American bookstore at the Historic LaSalle Corridor”), from the heavy (“I want zero tolerance gun laws in New Orleans”) to the whimsical (“I want a recycled glass monument to our lack of glass recycling”).

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