Edmonton City Centre Airport Social Media Todd Babiak

is social media triggering a citizen engagement renaissance in our cities?

Edmonton Journal columnist Todd Babiak has written an interesting column on the use of social media in the Edmonton City Centre Airport debate. Babiak interviewed Mack Male (@mastermaq) and Jørdan Schrøder (@cleisthenis) and focused on how social media was used by many engaged younger Edmontonians to convince City Councillors to close the ECCA in favour of smarter urban development.

Enough evidence has been collected to show that social media can have powerful advocacy uses, but I’m not convinced that social media alone will succeed in “turning the channel on the old boys’ network.” While the organic nature of social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs allow for the kind of direct interaction and conversation that radio ads and giant billboards could never, the back rooms and cheque books will continue to play a large role in influencing political decisions in our cities. This is a key reason why the types of changes made in Athabasca-Redwater MLA Jeff Johnson‘s Bill 203 municipal campaign finance reform legislation are so desperately needed.

While the ECCA debate was only one example of how the positive merger between social media and citizen engagement is evolving, there are other shining and nascent examples of other emerging citizen groups that taking place in our province, including ChangeCamp, CivicCamp, Better Calgary, and Better Edmonton. Tackling a wide range of issues from smart growth (including Plan It in Calgary) to connecting citizens and government in dialogue (through ChangeCamp), these groups are forming around active citizens who are willing to take a public stand (both in person and online) for the kind of positive change they want to see in their cities and communities.

It is easy to become cynical about traditional politics, grandstanding politicians, and old-style political parties, but I am constantly encouraged by the exciting citizen engagement that is happening on the municipal levels in Alberta’s cities.

Related Link:
Adam Rozenhart: A shifting discourse