Let’s hope someone is paying attention and is ready to take a cue from recent events in DC.
I moved to Columbia, MD about 5 years ago with my wife and then 4 month-old daughter. It happened very much by chance as I had recently completed graduate school, gotten a job with USDA in Beltsville, MD and just happened to stumble upon Columbia while driving in the area. It was one of the best choices I have made.
That being said, there is always room for improvement. Just today, a neighbor came by to get permission to do some exterior renovation on his property. Columbia has some fairly strict rules about what can and can’t be done (and I know that some people really chafe against these) and part of the process involves getting a certain number of signatures from neighbors. Regardless of any feeling I have about the necessity of this, I was struck by the fact that this process was of almost no benefit to anyone else considering similar improvements. With some creative thinking this process could be used to do much more than enforce rules and regulations. For example, by creating a Web site to Vet Improvement Projects you could:
Allow homeowners to post videos, images etc. about their potential plans and permit authenticated users (neighbors) to vote on the plans and/ or ask questions
Maintain a directory of contractors that permitted commenting, rating and multimedia examples of past work
Develop mapping tools that showed where permits had been granted
Integrate geospatial and mobile applications so that citizens could look up information about past or current projects in mobile browsers
The ideas above represent a very narrow example of what could be a much greater and more significant project. The point is that we need to find ways to let the many creative and talented people in our community leverage the Web and the currently available social tools in the name of the greater good. The potential of this approach was shown very clearly by the recent Apps for Democracy competition sponsored by the Office of the Chief Technology Officer of Washington D.C. Some amazing tools were developed at a fraction of the cost and effort of using traditional methods. One estimate calculated the ROI for the contest at 4000%. I am hoping that there were people in Columbia watching that contest and taking notes. Columbia is a great place, let’s find a way for everyone to pitch in and make it even better.