What does Malcolm Gladwell, the town of Braddock, Pennsylvania and Rudyard Kipling mixed in to an idea blender create?Â A new future for rust belt cities like Detroit.Â Here we go, baby.
In a recent article in the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell argues the importance of social activism and why things like Twitter and Facebook will not really be involved in revolution or large-scale systemic change.Â It’s part a knock on social media, but also part breakdown of the sorts of things that make social media functional– for the purpose of this commentary, as tools for establishing networks and communication portals.Â As Gladwell points out:
Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks arenâ€™t controlled by a single central authority. Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties that bind people to the group are loose.
This structure makes networks enormously resilient and adaptable in low-risk situations. Wikipedia is a perfect example. It doesnâ€™t have an editor, sitting in New York, who directs and corrects each entry. The effort of putting together each entry is self-organized. If every entry in Wikipedia were to be erased tomorrow, the content would swiftly be restored, because thatâ€™s what happens when a network of thousands spontaneously devote their time to a task.
What does this mean?Â Networks– from Facebook or Twitter to people just getting together the old fashioned way– while quite possibly not the answer to world revolution, are a strong tool for creating a cohesive medium that can start building a portal to share agendas and ideas about, oh, say, rust belt re-invention.
Meet John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania.Â He’s a rough neck of sorts, his quintessential mark of devotion to his town is the fact that his zip code is very largely tattooed on his left forearm.Â Braddock has a story very similar to Detroit’s: industry boomed for many years and created jobs, industry left and the bottom fell out.Â Houses are vacant, illegal dumping sullies the image of many parts of the town.Â Unemployment is an issue, too.Â But what’s happening despite that?Â Fetterman is attempting to bring creatives and otherwise in to Braddock to create more industry.Â And, slowly, it’s working. Hell, Levi Strauss Co. even came in to put some money in to re-development and are using it as fuel for a socially driven campaign they are promoting via the web and a couple television channels.
So, what’s the point here?
Detroit is not alone.Â Not alone at all in fact.Â Cities like Braddock, Cleveland and Toledo are very similar in that they are trying to re-invent themselves.Â Be it with creatives, with urban farming, with new industry; we are all searching for new ways to get ahead of the curve in renewing our cities.Â Now we’ve got to band together.
British writer Rudyard Kipling once said, “For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”Â This obviously underscores the importance of bringing together resources for the purposes of achieving a desired goal, maybe in this case, oh, say, lifting tired rust belt cities out of their exhausted old ways and pushing them (together) towards re-invention.
So why not bring people from these rust belt towns together through the means by which Gladwell is saying social media actually becomes an asset?Â Why not use the capabilities that these social media portals DO possess to unite and encourage idea sharing amongst fellow rust belt cities?Â What if each town established a network of social media tools for the purposes of sharing ideas?Â Then, say, an urban farmer in Braddock gets an idea that worked quite well in his neighborhood and posts a picture of it on Flickr for everyone else in the ‘ol belt to see?Â What if town hall meetings in Braddock were shared over Skype video chat while citizens of Toledo listened in for ideas on how they could improve their city?Â What if the folks at SOUP right here in Detroit recorded each week’s ideas and distributed via Facebook to the inhabitants of Cleveland?Â What happens when all these ideas become much more visible to one another?Â After all, we’re all fighting the same fight.
Time to start sharing for the sake of larger-scale renewal in the rust belt, and who knows, we all might come out on top as leaders and model examples, way ahead of the curve as American cities far and wide fight for re-invention.