City's new website aims to connect neighbors

CHAMPAIGN — City officials this week will unveil a website they hope will act as a resource and message board for residents concerned with their neighborhoods.

It's a new idea among local governments, said Neighborhood Services Director Kevin Jackson, and one he hopes will catch fire and keep people in touch with the city and with each other.

"This just gives them another tool to connect them to modern ways of communication," Jackson said.

Dozens of neighborhood groups already exist in the city, and some have their own websites or means of communicating among themselves. The city's site — Neighbors of Champaign — will aim to centralize those efforts. It will act as a forum, a news feed and a way to help connect neighborhood groups with each other.

"We do have some groups that don't have the technological driving force within their organization or don't have the financial resources like our homeowners associations," administrative assistant Colleen Madera said.

City staff will run a demonstration of the website for city council members during their meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St. In the weeks following, the neighborhood services department will launch an outreach campaign to register different groups and organizations with the site and to introduce them to its features.

The public launch of the website is expected no later than March 14.

Among other features, the website will include calendars, a news feed with relevant articles or information selected by city officials, access to the city's GIS maps, listservs, photo galleries and volunteer opportunities.

It will also include a "neighborhood leaders forum," where people can trade tips or share insights with each other.

The forum will require some moderation by city officials to ensure the conversation remains civil and constructive, Jackson said.

Many functions of the website are the kind of neighborhood wellness activities the city already focuses on, but doing it electronically is something that not many local governments have forayed into.

City officials hope to use the site, too. Through it, they can push out relevant information to neighborhood leaders, who will in turn share it on their social networks. In essence, they hope it goes viral on a hyper-local level.

"It is new," Jackson said. "It's a very novel idea."

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Orbiter wrote on January 27, 2014 at 10:01 am

It's an interesting idea, with potential to become a very useful and democratic outlet for people to voice their concerns, etc., and build neighborhood cohesiveness. The "neighborhood leaders forum" sounds worrisome, however, as there is a fine line between being an inclusive and spirited motivator of one's neighbors, and becoming a pushy neo-bully. On the one hand, electing these neighborhood leaders seems too formal, but on the other hand, allowing self-appointed busybodies to take control can effectively kill off the site.

Also, I wonder how the city will restrict access so that "leaders" from other areas don't hijack the resource.  And, of course, we all worry about spam-postings, political exploitation and privacy. Allowing anonymous posts can lead to flame-wars, but the last thing we need is another public forum with real names and demographic information to become yet another marketing tool for the likes of Google, etc.

I hope for the best.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on January 27, 2014 at 6:01 pm
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What you said.

 

I think Facebook does this already, doesn't it?

 

Still, it shouldn't be a substitute for friendly yet firm code enforcement. You really don't want to force individuals to take responsibility for telling their neighbors to turn down the music, pick up the poop, etc. There's always retaliation and bad blood.