Social Media as City Life 101

As Chicago Ideas Week asks Twitter for solutions to the city’s gun-violence problem, the daily social-media life of the city continues with the smaller dramas of urbanity, such as what to do with injured baby squirrels.

Chicago night view

 

Today, as part of Chicago Ideas Week, a panel presented Twitter-sourced ideas to reduce violence. It’s sort of interesting as a man-on-the-Information-Superhighway sampling of opinions, but I don’t know how much policy could ever come out of it. You can sample the suggestions at @WhatIfChicago.

just read a term called “culture of honor” in Malcolm gladwell’s Outliers. seems to some up the problem of Chicago violence

parents started teaching their kids better morals & values then maybe violence may decline in the future..

As long as there is no death penalty, there is no fear of consequence. Start making them pay for their actions.

recognize the rights of the people to bear arms . That simple. You are welcome.

This sort of thing has long been the ideal of social media gurus, as Steven Johnson (whom I’ve been reading since the Feed Magazine days—I’m very old in Internet years) explained to Richard Florida:

In Future Perfect, I am trying to map out what I see as an emerging political worldview — what I’m calling “peer progressivism” — influenced by the success of the Internet, but not naively cyber-utopian. And the core organization in that movement is the “peer network": decentralized, diverse groups collaborating on solving problems without traditional economic incentives. So Jacobs’ vision of how neighborhoods work — which has shaped my thinking about just about everything since I first read her in grad school — is central to the peer progressive approach.

When you’re trying to figure out how to make a neighborhood work better, the best resource is to draw upon on the people who actually live in the neighborhood. They are the true local experts. And that’s what we are seeing right now in about a thousand new urban start-ups and initiatives: whether it’s in the 311 services around the country, or SeeClickFix, or Neighborland. All these projects are about solving problems (or seizing opportunities) from below, not above. They are very much the descendants of Jacobs’ decentralized critique of Robert Moses.

One cobbled-together hashtag doesn’t obviate the idea, but I’ve had a different experience with social media and cities. For awhile now I’ve been a member of Everyblock (somewhat similar to Johnson’s creation, Outside.in), the city-based social networking/data/hyperlocal news site that grew out of the data-nerd-legendary Chicagocrime.org. And I do see “decentralized, diverse groups collaborating on solving problems without traditional economic incentives.” But it’s not stuff like solving the city’s increase in homicides or desegregating city schools or bridging the budget deficit (another thing the city tried). It’s little things—how do I fix the problem a block away?

Went to the garden at about 330. There was a group of about 10 high school student age people there. At least two of them were smoking pot. There were also used cigarillo wrappers and a drug baggie right under the benches.

When I started taking pictures of the pot smokers, one student objected. I offered him my phone to call the police to complain; he refused. They all left the area as soon as I started taking pictures.

Sometimes it’s the poignant little problems of city life:

Looking for someone with a huge heart.
2 baby squirrels dropped from a tree about 30 fee high in front of my office. I tried to help best as I can but they are not in good shape they are not going to make it past today…. My office pitched in few dollars to anyone that can come by to nurse them back to health. Maybe our money can cover food or something.

That person got a helpful answer:

Sometimes the Animal Welfare League will take in baby squirrels. Give them a call and ask first. I’ve brought a baby squirrel in to them before - they even emailed me a few months later to let me know that the little guy healed and they released him in Washington Park!

Or cultural unfamiliarities:

There are people living in a tent in the parking lot at Banks and Lake Shore Drive. Any idea what is going on there.

A sukkah (Hebrew: סוכה‎, plural, סוכות, sukkot; sukkoth, often translated as “booth") is a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot…. It is common for Jews to eat, sleep and otherwise spend time in the sukkah….[T]he sukkah itself symbolizes the frailty and transience of life and its dependence on God.

There is a street named “Banks"??

Or minor civic paranoia:

A suspicious hispanic woman with a red top approached our cab, overtly holding a cigarette in hervhand and asked for a light. When we didnt have one, a black male, 6 foot 2 or so who was her companion with a grey sweatshirt and skull cap, went to the drivers side of the car and asked for a light. The cab driver sped off. They then walked in the opposite direction west bound down superior. We decided to go to dominicks instead of home so they wldnt see where i lived…. So now we are hanging out in Bar Deville and will most likely look for a squad car to escort us home. Be careful tonight.

And lost pets. Lots of lost pets. And lots of inquiries as to things that go bang or crash in the night, and lots of questions about the safety of a given block or area, and lots of questions as to how to deal with things that aren’t crime but seem like they could be in the near future—When they were about 20 feet away one of them yelled “Get her!” At this I looked straight at them in the eyes and started dialing my cell phone in my pocket. They just started laughing."—the building blocks of the broken-windows theory.

It’s not the startups and initiatives of our techno-utopian future. It’s how to live in a city: what to worry about, what not to worry about, where to go to get something done, where you shouldn’t go to do anything. Not what to do a year or five years down the line, but how to get through today and tomorrow.

 

Photograph: akasped (CC by 2.0)

Share

Advertisement

Submit your comment

Comments are moderated. We review them in an effort to remove foul language, commercial messages, abuse, and irrelevancies.

Note: To serve its readers better, Chicago has migrated its comments to Disqus, a popular commenting platform. Please feel free to contact us with any feedback.