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New Online Networking Platform Focuses on Greening NYC

3:32 PM EDT on July 7, 2011

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New York has launched a new online platform, called Change By Us, meant to support local activism across the city. The first topic being tackled: How to make New York City greener.

The site gives New Yorkers a forum to submit ideas for how to improve the city and organize themselves into groups that can push to implement those ideas.

The key feature of the platform is that it algorithmically matches individuals and ideas with like-minded people nearby. When I suggested building more bike lanes in Morningside Heights, for example, the system connected me to a project aiming to illuminate the existing bike lanes in the area with gas lanterns. Right now, the initial goal of that project is to recruit 25 volunteers to change the gas every night. When I said I wanted to start my own project rather than join that one, it recommended links to resources like the Department of Transportation's bike program.

Resources could also include city funding. As part of the Change By Us launch, the city will be providing small grants to projects focused on gardening and composting.

"The site is really meant to move New Yorkers from being customers of city services to being partners in creating solutions for the city itself," said Jake Barton, the founder of Local Projects, the design firm which built Change By Us. It's better suited for supplementing grassroots organizing than lobbying the city directly, though city officials will be monitoring the site for ideas.

Returning to the bike lane example, Barton suggested that Change By Us might help neighborhood activists find each other, coordinate their efforts, and set an agenda for traditional advocacy like reaching out to elected officials. "One reason social networks have been successful is that it allows people to communicate at different times," said Barton. The site could be used to make the equivalent of petitions, he said, but for directly lobbying the city government, "there's already official ways, like through 311."

Transportation-related projects already on the site include tearing down the Sheridan Expressway and developing the footprint, expanding the Jackson Heights 78th Street Play Street, and striping a painted bike lane along Bay Ridge Parkway.

Try it out and let us know in comments whether you think the site will help more New Yorkers get involved in efforts like these.

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