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A New Online Forum for New York's Upper East Side

BY Nick Judd | Friday, October 21 2011

Here in New York, City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin recently launched "Fifth District Idea Community," a platform for constituents to share ideas about neighborhood issues.

"Our goal is to add a general topic issue topic each month then pose some questions to get people's juices flowing, although certainly people can add their own questions to the mix," Lappin told me today. "We hope that people can learn from one another and that people in government can learn from constituents."

This type of open suggestion box has been tried in cities across the country, with varying degrees of success. New York City offers one externally where users are prompted to share ideas around the environment, and tested out another platform internally for employees earlier this year. Often, platforms like these get initial buzz but few regular users. Meanwhile, blogs and websites maintained by outsiders — like the transportation-focused Streetsblog and education-focused Gotham Schools, both of which are based here in New York — rack up traffic and comments.

Lappin says the first month with the website — powered by a new platform, Bonfire, built by New York-based Arc90 — will be focused on education.

"We're reaching out to different online education communities, whether it's in a school by talking to the parent coordinator or the PA president —" that's the parent's association — "to I blasted this out to my email list," Lappin told me. (Neither Facebook or Twitter were spared from the message, either.)

"Sometimes bureaucracy in government can be overwhelming to people, and I view part of my job as being accessible and breaking down these barriers and using technology to do that," she said. "But it's not my field. There are people who spend their whole lives doing this."

This site got off the ground on the initiative of the company that offers Bonfire, New York-based Arc90, which approached Lappin to offer the platform for her City Council office, she said. Now all that remains is to keep trying to publicize the forum and stir up participation.

"I think it will work," she said. "I hope it works."