Last Minute Activism and Innovation

Last week I talked about last minute activism that is so prevalent in Athens, Georgia politics. I wondered what it might be like if we could have a running queue of issues that people were aware of. For example, I find it very interesting and sad that the Classic Center has planned on expanding across Hancock for over a decade, pending funding. Well, now they have the funding, and have the go-ahead, but it’s only now that well-intentioned Athenians are voicing opposition – or at least changes (for which it is much too late). It would have been in everyone’s interest (not to mention the taxpayer’s financial interest) if we could have gone through this before everything was made permanent.

I know that we can’t prepare for every contingency, and that citizens, and our small press cannot stay informed on everything. But what if we made a better attempt at it? Well, it actually turns out that another city our size and situation (university town 60 mi from a metropolis) is doing just that.

Boulder, Colorado has a link page on their main webpage that gathers together links to all ongoing and upcoming projects and issues. Boulder, Co Issues Page. Now, I’m sure that they have last-second issues that pop up, and I’m sure that they have irate citizens that don’t complain until the boom-cranes start going up, but the point is that they try to make it accessible – rather than make concerned citizens comb through PDF minutes of work sessions, or the latest weekly column from John Huie or Kevan Williams.

So that’s a partial solution to last minute activism, but the point that I really want to discuss is innovation in local government. In an age where corporations and individuals borrow the best ideas from each other around the world, and where there is a spawning ‘global intelligence’ and instantaneous communication – why don’t we borrow more ideas from cities our size.

National governments watch to see what measures work on a State-level (Massachusetts health-care), and in other countries (a whole organization, the OECD is devoted to this). State governments borrow from each other (HOPE, texting laws, etc, etc). There are hundreds, if not thousands of cities our size around America, and around the world.

As valuable as fresh ideas from local individuals or politicians are, ideas that are proven to work from other cities should be that much more valuable. I know that there are benchmarks, best practice manuals, and consultants that disseminate this information, and I recognize that many things are Athens-specific. However, it seems that our professional staff utilize these options much more than our politicians and board members do. Rather, they try to take common-place abstract ideas from big cities or big thinkers and apply them to Athens (ie Portland, Witold Rybcyznski, Richard Florida, whatever).

I wonder if rather than proposing and pushing new ideas for problems, what if we just tried (more often, we do it mediocrely well now) to apply lessons from other towns to Athens.

And on that note, why did we make our website the way it is now? It’s better than it was, but still not intuitive at all. Athens Clarke County – just copy and paste College Station, Texas or Boulder, Colorado.

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