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Greater Greater Washington (and the Power of Localized Political Blogs)

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, September 27 2010

While the Washingtonians among us might have caught this Washington City Paper profile of David Alpert and his Greater Greater Washington when it ran earlier this month, I fear too many of us missed it. Greater Greater Washington (GreaterGreaterWashington.org), if you're unfamiliar, is a humble group blog that Alpert and a team of committed allies have managing to quickly grow into a major force in the District's civic debate over everything from parking meters to trolley cars to smart growth to education. Here's a taste of Lydia DePillis' profile of Alpert:

In just a few short years, Alpert has made himself arguably the District’s most important advocate on issues of planning and development -- a guy who, without holding public office, occupying a university chair, or even having a day job, is going to help shape what Washington looks like decades from now. “His way is to push and push and push on people, and advocates very assertively for smart growth and new urbanism and all of these things that are important to make D.C. great,” says District Department of Transportation Director Gabe Klein. Before they roll out any new initiative, Klein says, his team wonders “what is David Alpert going to want to know, what is Kojo Nnamdi going to want to know, what is Dr. Gridlock going to want to know?” That’s pretty good company for a 32-year old Massachusetts native who was living in Brooklyn during Washington’s last mayoral election.

What's so striking about Greater Greater Washington -- or "GGW" as those in the know call it (including the District's CIO, for example) -- is how strong a demonstration it is of the idea, popular in, oh, '04 and '05, that state and local political blogs were going to be the thing. Forget national blogs. The power of our new networked technologies, the thinking went, could prove itself particularly transformative when tied to local geographies and the personal relationships that people have with the people they happen to live among in their cites and towns. That early promise of localized political blogging really hasn't borne itself out, which makes the role that GWW plays in Washington even more compelling an example.

If you'll indulge me in getting personal, I should mention that I consider David Alpert a good friend. Putting aside politics and policy and all that stuff, he's one of my favorite people in the world. We first met when we found ourselves several years ago riding in the same downtown DC elevator on the way to the same rooftoop BBQ. We politely introduced ourselves, and then quickly dove into spirited argument about copyright policy, of all things. We argued throughout the afternoon's festivities. A friendship was born. A few years later, we were both living in New York City, David helping to build Drinking Liberally into a nation-wide social organization and assigning me Jane Jacobs readings. When David eventually let on that he was thinking of moving his life down to Washington, I counseled against it, arguing that (with all due apologies, Washington) that the city that I'd called home for more than a decade lacked the sort of density of urban energy that David had so thrived on in New York City

Well, David being David, he had something else in mind, a Plan B, another path. He would indeed move to Washington, but he'd harnessed what he'd learned about the power of technology while at Google, with Drinking Liberally, and the rest of what he'd done up to that point to build a blogging and commenting community full of policy-driven discussion, aimed at opening the door to a bettering of Washington, the city. It's been remarkable to watch what David and his team of bloggers (and army of commenters) have been able to do to inform the urban debate in the District, in just a few very short years. Remarkable, but David being David, not all that surprising, really. Give the Washington City Paper profile a read.

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