CNU 17, DENVER, CO – Adapt or die.
That Darwinist admonition has been invoked to justify tons of brilliant and tons of stupid strategies for coping with change. It’s applied these days to the rise of Web-enabled social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter. And since New Urbanists are early adopters of new approaches to conceptualizing and coping with change, there’s a lot of conversation going on right now about how to – and whether to – employ these new tools.
On June 10, here at the 17th annual Congress for the New Urbanism, Bill Lennertz, executive director of the National Charrette Institute, and Ken Snyder, a founder of PlaceMatters, led a half-day workshop on “Hi-Tech, Hi-Touch Public Meeting Facilitation Tools for Charrettes.” Below, Lennertz describes how the NCI is exploring the strategic possibilities and the gadgetry of social networking tools.
The path to merging public engagement strategies and the rapidly evolving Web tools is not going to be clear anytime soon. We don’t have sorting mechanisms just yet that help us decide whether a new tool enables a paradigm shift or is just another distraction from purposeful planning. We might speed our adaptation if we paid attention to the discussion going on in the realm of the techies who invented all this stuff.
New Urbanists were among the first to see the implications of crowd-sourcing strategies that imitate natural networks. Wired mag co-founder Kevin Kelley has been on the must-read list, first with New Rules for the New Economy, and more recently with Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, & the Electronic World. Kelly has a provocative piece in Wired suggesting that these Web technologies are enabling the “new socialism.”
Even more on point with regard to the social implications of Web-enabled systems is NYU adjunct professor and interactive technology consultant Clay Shirky. Shirky provides a readable intro to this new territory in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. And you can watch Shirky walk an audience through some of the ideas on youtube:
One of the essential takeaways from Shirky’s work is the notion that, with social networking, we are likely talking about a challenge of “different” rather than just “more.” In another video, he makes the key point that our frustration with what we call information overload is actually about a breakdown in the filters we’ve evolved for determining the value of information input. Instead of fretting over the redesign of old-era filtering mechanisms that focused on editing/censoring/gate keeping at information sources, we must develop new ones on our end of the information stream to cope with what is likely to be a permanent condition of accelerating access to everything, all the time, everywhere.
What that implies for New Urbanists’ adaptation strategies for public engagement is that we have to first recognize that this new environment is the one in which we’ll be operating and that our responsibilities for refining our own filtering systems and for helping clients and citizens develop theirs will only grow.
— Ben Brown