Speculative Urban Blogging

I came across two great new blogs this week that do what you might refer to as "speculative urban blogging" in two very different (if equally innovative) ways. So consider tonight's post sort of an in-depth lead-in to Weekend Reading, if you will.

Audacious Ideas takes a look at how things are going in Baltimore and makes some rather audacious suggestions as to how these problems might be addressed more effectively. Here's the catch: the entries are written by Baltimore professionals who work in fields that deal directly with the problems that they are writing about. Audacious Ideas takes big questions and provides answers sized to match. And even with only five posts (not including the introduction), AI has provided audacious[ly pragmatic, in most cases] suggestions for policy reform in the areas of public health, the city budget, childrens' safety, drug treatment, and education.

Even better, the audacity is apparently just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. Every topic has spurred a discussion at least a dozen posts long. Baltimoreans are taking inspiration from this new public forum, and from everything that I've read the readers are taking the discussions seriously -- a rare occurence on the internet. It certainly helps that these discussions are being started and led by community leaders with experience and wisdom. Online conversations almost always benefit from having a curating presence, and as this blog continues to build a body of posts and public discourse, it stands a better chance of becoming a real engine for change in Baltimore. Speculating on the future of the city opens up possibilities and puts some 2.0 juice into public policy.

The Blurgh looks at Pittsburgh's future from an entirely different angle: the writers are already living in it. Written in an imagined 2027, The Blurgh is a rather audacious blog, itself. "Frank" and "Gretchen" are two twentysomethings, a student and a writer, making their way in the now-resurgent Steel City. Written as a simple journal-style blog, The Blurgh is coy. The bloggers mention massive changes in the city's physical and economic environments -- Pittsburgh's status as a hub of sustainable technology, the city's impressive literary scene, an über-extensive mass transit system -- in passing, stopping only occasionally to do a sort of "gee, whiz" look back at the past (aka our present) and comment on how glad they are to be living in the "new" Pittsburgh (aka the one in 2027).

It's the realism that is so clever. If this very blog were being written in 2007, it would be wholly unremarkable, another drop in the massive bucket of naval-gazing public journaling that has earned the field blogging its currently somewhat uneven reputation. Well, okay...it is actually being written in 2007, but you get what I mean. The writer(s) of The Blurgh seem to know exactly what they're doing and, while it's too early to tell, they could turn this blog into a very important forum for the discussion of Pittsburgh's future, and how the city got/could get there. At the very least, it will be interesting to see how The Blurgh -- and its community of readers -- evolves.

So much of urblogging is focused on keeping tabs on what's going on right now in a neighborhood or a city. The local everyday politics of potholes, homelessness, new construction, and Starbucks are important to local discourse, and this is not a knock against of-the-moment urblogs. But it certainly wouldn't hurt, I don't think, if bloggers in a few more cities took on the challenge of trying to imagine a better and brighter future for the places they live. The hyperlocal movement is very much tied to the immediate present, and sometimes this means that urbloggers can't see the forest for the trees. A better future for our cities is something worth speculating about, and blogging provides those interested with the perfect medium to address rapidly-changing problems. As Audacious Ideas and The Blurgh show us, there are many different ways to use this technology to speculate on a brighter urban future.

(Photo from Flickr user joey kennedy. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)

Audacious Ideas (via CEOs for Cities)

The Blurgh (via The Burgh Diaspora)

1 comment:

Gretchen said...

Thanks for the great review, Brendan, we really appreciate it and we're having a great time writing the blog.