An Ambitious Project Looks to Fix Urban America through Crowd Sourcing


Photo: Divya Thakur under a Creative Commons license.

Over the last few weeks, Chicagoans have been asked a simple question: "What would encourage you to walk, bike and take CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) more often?" Ads posing the question in buses, subways and public spaces invite the city's residents to respond with their ideas, via text message.

This mass call and response is part of Give a Minute, a campaign created by advocacy group CEOs for Cities and media design firm Local Projects, which looks to take public dialogue out of town meetings and into the streets. The idea is simple: by making participation as simple as sending a text message, Give a Minute will bring more people, and ideas, into the debate. In an interview with Urban Omnibus, Jake Barton of Local Projects said of the current state of public debate:

And, because community meetings happen in physical space in a very restrictive amount of time, the only people who go are those who already care about the issue at hand, who have the time and disposition to make their voices heard, or the people who are most polarized on either side of the debate. For Give A Minute, we wanted to lower the barriers for entry into constructive dialogue focused around positive collective change rather than specific complaints.

The project goes beyond getting people to text their ideas: it answers back. Each question will have a team of "response leaders," public figures and local advocates who are in positions to effect change. The Give a Minute website features a "Who's Listening?" page, with the information on the response leaders, who send personal responses to their favorite ideas. (For the question on Chicago's transportation, the response leaders are the Chairman of the Chicago Transit Board and the leaders of two local biking and transportation advocacy groups.)

But Give a Minute isn't content fixing Chicago's transportation system. The current question has been a trial run; there are campaigns planned for New York, Memphis and San Jose in the upcoming year. There's no word yet on how the responses to the Chicago question will be translated into action, but Give a Minute inspires a lot of optimism and confidence (at least in me). It's an idea that just makes sense, and those are the ones that work best.

For more stories like this, follow me on Twitter.
More on participation in the urban community:
People Actually Like Clunky Environment-Sensing Wrist Bands From La Montre Verte
Urban Farming, Community Resilience and the Death of the Motor Industry in Detroit (Video)
11 Open Source Projects that Make Free Information Rock
Open Data is Bringing Public Transportation Into the 21st Century

Tags: Chicago | Social Networking | Urban Life