Monday, August 13, 2012

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

What the heck is up with all the Neighborland hate these days?

When I first heard about Neighborland and what it was, I thought it was a cool idea: there's this website, and if you create an account, you can post ideas for the neighborhood and city that you live in or "like" other people's ideas. You can make comments and connect with folks based on common interests. And that's cool when the majority of my online interaction happens over Facebook and email, and those are folks I already know who I've already bored to death with my ideas big and small. This all seems pretty basic and benign to me.

I mean, click over and look at the front page of Neighborland New Orleans. The top issues when I looked at it this evening are:

Recycling glass - which you can't do in New Orleans, but is something I would like to have in town,
Bike shares - which we kinda already do in New Orleans, but the folks you're sharing your bike with generally don't bring it back,
Saving live music - because the City Council doesn't want to write ordinances that make sense,
Supporting food trucks - because the City Council doesn't want to write ordinances that make sense, and
Recycling access - because it would be nice to have more receptacles for the stuff that usually ends up on the ground around here.

Do any of those items inspire some righteous anger within you? I'm sure not feeling it.

I also know Alan in passing. I've been to several events sponsored by Neighborland, and they were all well organized with worthwhile content. He gave a Neighborland presentation at last year's Rising Tide conference, and the organizers and audience seemed pretty excited about having him (registration is open for THIS year's Rising Tide conference, by the way, including a panel on Community vs Commodity). I recently attended a Food Truck Symposium he organized and Neighborland supported, because I'm all about opening up economic opportunities for small business, and I know exactly how expensive and risky it is to open up a restaurant. These things were fun, informative, and - again - not exactly the stuff that incites my ire.

I never signed up for an account over there (before tonight) because I figured I didn't really need one more online thing to keep up with, especially when the ideas being talked about are generally the same ones that get airplay elsewhere around town.

But recently, hating on Neighborland is starting to get airplay around town. Who knew that behind the fascade of a basic and benign local ideas website, this organization would actually represent the sinister aspect of creeping outside agitation and public policy takeover in New Orleans?

If you too are scratching your head about how we get from "I want to recycle glass in New Orleans" and "food trucks would be fun here" to "we're taking over St. Claude Avenue and there is nothing you puny locals can do about it," you aren't the only one. I have to say I'm completely baffled.

From what I can gather, NPR ran a report that referenced the "Post-Katrina New Orleans is a Blank Slate" narrative that never goes over so well with people who live in New Orleans. That unfortunate introduction led into a report where Neighborland was discussed, and the association was made. It didn't matter if Neighborland did or didn't have a hand in the syntax of the article or the choice of words, as the Gambit comments section proves - to some folks, the mere association is enough of a crime. Especially if the organization in question might serve as a convenient caricature of the "influx" of out-of-town folks moving to New Orleans with the intention of turning the place into Cleveland. People proposing ideas for New Orleans have to have impeccable #standing, after all.

But that could just be a comment section getting heated? That happens all the time on the internets, right? Thing is, even those of us barely paying attention to the exchange took notice when The Lens published an op-ed that could only be considered a hit piece against Neighborland and founder Candy Chang. That's right, in one editorial, the basic, benign website had morphed into some shadowy organization hell bent on driving long term residents away from St. Claude Avenue, and making decisions for the community without community involvement.

The plot thickened when The Lens, a premier online investigative news source for New Orleans, quickly published a retraction and apology for printing the editorial. Because now, there's an entire blog apparently dedicated to defending that editorial and exposing the excesses and out-of-townness behind Neighborland. Apparently it isn't OK to work and secure grant funding for beautification projects, especially if you invite community comment and input about how to spend the money. Despite the invitations to participate in the process, certain folks feel they are being left out. Because that's what it sounds like folks are raising the alarms about, here. (And I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, I'm totally baffled to be honest.)

So tonight, to test the theory of not being allowed to participate in the process, I went over to Neighborland and set up an account. I was able to begin posting comments and "liking" local ideas immediately, and it was pretty easy to do. I guess that's all part of the plan, though, and they're just waiting to shut me out of the process when they spring their sinister trap and bring a Trader Joe's to Mid-City.

Wait a second....I know why it was so easy for me to sign up for an account over there! They must already know that I'm not from New Orleans. How sinister indeed! I'm actually part of the outside agitators taking over town. Guess there will be some hate mail sent my way directly.

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