Community 2.0 and the Built Environment: The Phil Tadros Interview

I had a chance to talk to Phil Tadros, who runs Dollop, the coffee shop that serves as a major third place in Buena Park, my neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. Dollop, from the front door to the back storage area, looks like your living room. It's comfortable, cozy, and full of friendly-looking people chatting or typing away furiously on their laptops. Not gonna lie -- I love the place.

So I was really excited to talk to Phil about the website he's developing, MetroProper.com, this past week. The site, which Phil and his team hope to have up within the next month, takes a number of components from different Community 2.0 sites and combines and organizes them into a more locally-focused format that takes a lot of cues from the many third place-type businesses Phil has run over the past few years. It's small business-thinking on a massive scale. Check out the interview, then go sign up at the placeholder site.


Where: Describe, in your own words, what MetroProper is and why you are developing it.

Phil Tadros: It's a city-based social network that I'm developing because I have a background of opening coffee shops and communty hubs that are productive safe havens that people are able to work out of or be a part of or meet each other in. One of the things I've learned is that there are not enough people that know each other or what each other does or each others' names, even though they see each other's faces every day...so MetroProper is an extention of my coffee shop background. Like, in a way, my whole business history has been leading up to this one, really big coffee shop.

The site also includes an independent, front-page citizen media component as well as classifieds and individual pages for businesses. I really just wanted to create the most productive atmosphere for community-based media...I want to cut the crap, basically. One of the things about the internet is that it is cutting the crap from a lot of the old media. It's getting you your information more quickly and more productively and it's not as controleld by a small group of people and, I guess, manipulated, even ad-wise.

I mean look at craigslist: they're unbelievable, right? They could have sold out but they're actually making a ridiculous amount of money and they're doing it in a really respectful way. They're not insulting the communities they serve or undermining their intelligence and they're treating people with a lot of respect. And that's the kind of environment that I want ot create on land life as far as coffee shops, etc...so MetroProper is kind of bringing that mentality of what I do and what I respect that others do and trying to offer a more productive version and mixture of a lot of the sites that I like.

W: There's still this fear, I think, of the internet for some people where they worry that communities will get increasingly focused on the web and less on the real world. How would you say--or would you say--that MetroProper would deal with that?

PT: Well some people, you know, they're just not into technology at all, and they're more into everything being completely natural and going back to everything being earth and trees and I repsect that highly, but I think we've gone too far in a man-made world to just go back to that, or even to try to maintain the world as it is. We, as animals, have already made up more things than any other animal in the history of the world -- language, art, etc. So it's like the internet, in terms of democracy and information to the masses is, I guess, the only way that i've learned about so far that you can actually organize all of that information and bring back a lot of things that have lost meaning or touch through being controlled by other types of business and media.

W: Like taking what you learn about online and bringing it back to your land life?

PT: Yeah, you've got to take the connections that you make and the stuff you learn about and use all of that along with your values to choose what to be a part of. In a general positive sense -- again, I compare the web to newspapers because those things are controlled by a small, powerful amount of people -- I believe that the masses, as far as people who are more pro-honesty and pro-humanity, would probably like more options. That's what the internet has offered. Anybody can publish information. It's amazing.

MetroProper is basically about offering a true productive democracy. Like with our business listings: you can't give us money to be on the top of the list. We won't take it. If you have votes, you'll be there. The way we would make money (if we make money) is on businesses activating a profile and then customizing their page and making it their web presence if they choose to because a lot of small businesses struggle with that. So on the business side, it's about interacting with local people in a more charming, down to earth, and intelligent, productive way.

W: How do increased connectivity over the web and all of these new ways of learning about other people and working with them online -- how does that play out in the physical landscape? How does that change the way that we build cities?

PT: Well it ties into knowing your neighbor more and knowing your local businesspeople more and just kind of offering something that's useful and charming enough where, if you choose to get involved, there are other people there who are saying "I want to be involved in my community also," and those people can communicate. With MetroProper specifically, we're doing a lot of interesting things for sure but we're not inventing anything new; we're just offering ways to shape the information differently, really -- and in my extreme opinion, more productively once the site is populated.

So as far as tying in with "how does it develop communities" from the net and how does it translate back into each neighborhood...take Bojono's Pizza [the restaurant next to Dollop] for example: they have no website. So if I can give Craig, the guy who runs the shop, the url map for Bojono's Pizza through MetroProper, he's basically running a social network that he can customize. He can let people that come in that shop know about the site and use it to post specials or news or have people leave comments, or just say to new neighbors "hey, we're here." So with MetroProper, we are offering a way for the community that he already has to be a tighter community and a more informed community. It's a really productive way to enhance relationships in your outfit.

W: Let's talk about what you call "land life" a bit...as you mentioned, you've run several "third place," community hub-style establishments...how have you seen, in your own experience, that type of space working within a community and creating change?

PT: Well when I ran Chase Cafe, the space was a 4000sf 1920s hotel lobby and ballroom, and in it we had a kitchen, we had a broadcast-level video production room, we had a sound studio, we had a design office, we had a commercial printer and we were printing posters for bands and flyers and whatever, and we had an art gallery and there was so much going on there...we didn't lock the doors. We didn't need to. There was always somebody working on a project in there, 24 hours a day. People checked in, basically, it was like a lifestyle. It was an independent, artistic, productive community, and I was more in love with the experiment of it and watching it happening than trying to control the majority of it.

Most businesses would not do what I did in land life, with my neck out there, on my dime. But the thing is, that was a place where someone like Eve, this girl who cause a lot of trouble, learned to make beats and make music and got into the music industry. You know, everything I've been a part of, in a way, I feel comfortable in believing that they have been community hubs that were actually helping the community, or evolving peoples lifestyles. There are so many people who, on an emotiional level -- and I mean, we're basically all emotions all the time -- have appreciated having something like that, to be a part of a place where you can just sit there and feel, and it's beneficial...I think we need more of those, period: more coffee shops and local businesses and community hubs.

And with Dollop, people are so happy about it, it's a very very loved and respected coffee shop, and it's very cozy and productive, It's taken this neighborhood [Buena Park], where people have lived forever, and brought together the whole freakin' community. There wasn't a place for people to hang out and just talk to each other, and that's what we brought here.

W: The internet has this kind of amorphous, fantastical geography of its own but it's not actually a place; we think of it as a place, but it's not actually a physical place. But MetroProper is very focused on specific areas...I don't know any other community sites that focus on that aspect. What made you decide to go that way and really focus locally and give each metro it's own page, instead of the Myspace model, which is more universal?

PT: Well the whole thing started with the name ChicagoProper.com, about five years ago. I wanted to do a newspaper online and interview bands and chefs and whatever was going on in Chicago and do a really unique version of news, whether it was video or articles or whatever. So then I thought, if ChicagoProper works out, I might want to secure NewYorkProper.com and LondonProper.com, and that became an addiction and I wound up doing 400 cities. So now, if I go to London and find a cool bar there and I I ask them "Hey, can I throw a party here for MetroProper," it can be for LondonProper.com and we can let people know this is for their city and about their city.

And there's also the fact that Myspace and other sites like it are more generic...but people like repping their city. If you're browsing for people on sites like that you're going to look wherever is close to your house. So it's about wanting to make real life connections happen more. MetroProper is about making the web experience be honest and productive so that my land life experiences can be enriched.

W: To wrap up, how do you envision, or how do you hope MetroProper as a website and community will affect physical communities?

PT: It feels good to interact with people; you need to. It's more important than eating. So I want to be a part of facilitating good things in general for other people, and that's a huge goal and ambition that I feel good about. We live in a world that we really don't have any answers to at all. So if I know these things [about the importance of connections] for sure, then I want to be a part of facilitating more of that. And I want to be able to help people who are running small businesses, too -- and being a small business owner I know what all goes into that. I have a proven track record of really getting things done. I've contracted and built seven stores in seven years, so I know what it is on the other side in terms of "I need everything at once: I need help with an electrician and a graphics person and I need help with this espresso machine," and you get into the details and the list becomes enormous...so I want to be a part of helping facilitate those resources on a more local level, and that's what I hope MetroProper will allow me to do.


And so ends "Community 2.0 and the Built Environment." Hopefully you've enjoyed the series...and in case you missed it: Introduction; The New Agora; Communeconomics; Neighborhood Futurism

See you all next week, when I go back to talking about whatever the hell strikes me as interesting.


MP @ MySpace

(Sorry about the length on this one...I can't figure out how to do those "after the jump" things, but I'm working on it.)

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