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Ald. Jennifer Florida First St. Louis Alderman to Begin Blogging

It seems Ald. Jennifer Florida has become the first Alderman in the City of St. Louis to start a blog as part of her means of communications with constituents and other interested parties such as myself. This is an about face for Florida with respect to blogs, in June she called this site a “stupid blog.” It would appear that Florida has seen the effectiveness of the web as a means of communication and wants to take more control over the message in the 15th Ward. My reaction? Great, what took so long and when are the rest going to follow suit?

When I was running for the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in early 2005 one of the very first things I did was work on a communications strategy. On 1/22/05 my campaign blog went live. From that first post :

I’m pleased to announce that the latest news for my campaign will be presented in a blog format. I will keep voters, volunteers, contributers and the public informed of happenings and appearances via this space. I will also be discussing various issues in greater detail here as well. I will demonstrate to the voters that I am a thinking candidate – I will bring up issues and offer solutions. The comments section will be an opportunity for the public to tell me if I am on tract or not. Public feedback to aldermen is a key component that is missing from our current system. Part of the reason I decided on 25thward.com as my website address is because I think this will serve me well once elected to office. Through this website address I will be able to keep the residents of the 25th Ward informed of hot issues, public meetings, request feedback on upcoming decisions. Making use of current technology will just be one way of being an effective alderman

I touched on this issue a week later on 2/1/05:

So many people say we are not Chicago. True, we are not. We don’t have the population density, the vibrant streets, the thousands of bike racks or Aldermen using the internet to communicate the relevant (albeit mundane) information to ward constituents. Chicago’s aldermen are taking that extra step to use the internet to keep their constituents informed of issues and meetings.

St. Louis’ current system of keeping constituents informed is for aldermen to attend the various neighborhood meetings and give a city hall update to the few people present. Little information is actually communicated – no visuals, no maps, no links to other resources. If you didn’t make it to the meeting you are out of luck. You might get some of the information in a neighborhood newsletter a month or two later – if you are on their mailing list.

My campaign is about bringing fresh thinking to the 25th ward and entire City of St. Louis. Moving the level of communications between city hall and constituents into the 21st century is just one example.

In numerous posts since then, and by way of example, I have shown that complex issues can be effectively communicated and debated. Not everyone will agree on issues. That is the purpose of public discourse, to share perspectives. It is imperative for our elected representatives to hear all sides of issues and from as many people as feasible. With the internet that is unlimited. It is also important to get feedback from all city residents as development projects, by default must take place within a ward, they can have an impact on the entire city.

I applaud Jennifer Florida for being the first St. Louis alderman to make that leap into the 21st Century with modern communications technology. For those aldermen reading this on their old Gateway computer with Windows 95 let me help clarify for you what we are talking about. A “blog” is a form of website. In the old days of the internet, websites were complicated and often costly to set up. No so these days, the blog technology behind the scenes make the setup and posting amazingly simple. The underlying software that runs a blog is referred to these days as “content management” software. So a teenagers blog on myspace.com might well be about what she did today but in the political world a blog can be a means of managing content — notices about upcoming meetings, links to legislation, open discussion on topics under consideration for legislation and of course community visioning. The RSS feed provided via content management software lets more savvy users know when new posts are available for viewing. This information comes to those who want it. The resident who can’t make that 6pm community meeting because they don’t get off work until 10pm can read the site at any time it suits them. The more content the more informed they will be.

I think Jennifer Florida will quickly realize how effective this tool can be, hopefully sharing her experience with her colleagues. One Alderman recently told me he was in Chicago and met someone at an event with the alderman saying he was from St. Louis and the guy asked, “Oh, do you know Steve Patterson’s blog?” Needless to say, this alderman couldn’t believe that he met some random person at a Chicago function and the guy mentions me. It was beyond his comprehension that people in Chicago would be reading about issues in St. Louis. I explained to him, as I have above, how blogs work. He has yet to take my advice. I think many still believe they need thousands of dollars, many computer wizards and hours upon hours of time to have a website. This view is as outdated as our zoning.

So, I’m going to make the members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen an offer in the interest of better communications. I’m willing to give them a presentation on how to set up and maintain a blog. All I ask is that they have at least 4 aldermen present, I can’t take the time one on one unless I’m getting paid. And I am willing to do that — if you want me to help get you started I can do that on the clock as they say. Only conditions here is that I will disclose that I have done so and that my helping in that regard does not constitute any form of endorsement. My goal is to get all 28 aldermen blogging about community meetings, issues, proposed development and such. I might even be able to talk my friend Antonio French of PubDef into co-presenting to them on blogging. And what about those elected aldermen and city council folks in the balance of the region? Sure, I want to see communications increase throughout the region so I can be persuaded to come talk to you as well.

Visit Alderwoman Jennifer Florida’s 15th Ward Blog and also take a look at a review of Florida’s blog by 15th Ward resident Steve Wilke-Shapiro.


French & Patterson on Public Radio Program: ‘Open Source with Christopher Lydon’

October 25, 2006 Media, Politics/Policy 2 Comments

Yesterday the national radio program, Open Source with Christopher Lydon, focused on the Missouri Senate race. My friend and fellow blogger Antonio French of PubDef was among the guests during the hour-long program.

Open Source interviewed me in advance for a short edited bit on St. Louis. My piece, which closed out the show, is just over two minutes and starts at the 49 minute mark. Click here for the program’s website with a link to the MP3 file for your listening pleasure. Open Source airs Monday-Thursday on over 30 public radio stations across the country (including WGBH in Boston) and on XM Satellite.


Al Franken: God Spoke, Opening in St. Louis October 27th at the Chase

October 19, 2006 Events/Meetings, Media 2 Comments

If I’ve never said it before, I’m a big fan of Al Franken. He tells is like he sees it and is not afraid to call a liar a liar. I met Franken many years ago at a book reading and signing at the former Library Ltd in Clayton. What a funny guy. I really enjoyed the bits he did on the Comedy channel during a couple of campaigns where he and Arianna Huffington were in a bed together doing election commentary. Classic stuff! Somehow I missed Arianna Huffington switching from being conservative to more moderate/liberal, see HuffingtonPost.com.

But, back to Al Franken…

He has a new grassroots movie out and because I was offered a couple of free tickets to the opening on the 27th, I agreed to pass along information about the film. Yes, for Al Franken I can be bought off with two movie passes. Here is the press release:

AL FRANKEN: GOD SPOKE opening in St Louis on Oct. 27th at the Chase Park Plaza Cinemas. <www.chase.stlouiscinemas.com>
“Hilarious!” Salon.com ** “Smartly Satirical.” Variety ** “Fair and Balanced!” Minneapolis Star Tribune **

The makers of “The War Room” have made a hilarious new documentary “Al Franken: God Spoke.” From his USO tour in Iraq, to the studios of liberal radio network Air America and on the campaign trail, filmmakers Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus are granted entre to one of the most effective political satirists of our time. Franken fearlessly confronts pundits and politicians, blurring the boundaries between political satire and impassioned citizenry. Featuring a host of beltway big mouths including Ann Coulter, Michael Moore, Al Gore, John Kerry, Robert Kennedy Jr., Sean Hannity, William Safire, Karen Hughes and Henry Kissinger, the film is a look behind the front lines of the media wars during the most contentious election in recent history. But ultimately, the film is a personal drama of transformation, as Al Franken leaves his comedy days behind and moves from his seat in the sidelines to become a contender inside the political ring.


The showtime is not yet set for next Friday. Check the Chase website for the exact time.


Classic Folk Song “Little Boxes” Becomes “Big Boxes”

September 3, 2006 Big Box, Media 3 Comments

Many of you probably know the classic folk song, Little Boxes, by the late Malvina Reynolds (iTunes). This song was written in 1962 and it did a great job capturing the essence of the time but I felt it needed an update after nearly 45 years (link to original lyrics). The blandness of the Loughborough Commons project combined with the amount of earth moving to create a flat site moved me. Also, the typical tacky suburban house is no longer little. So, with that, I have tweaked her lyrics to reflect the current suburban hell known to many:

Big boxes on the former hillside,
Big boxes made of ticky tacky
Big boxes on the former hillside,
Big boxes all the same,
There’s a beige one and a gray one
And a brown one and a white one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the trade school
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And there’s mechanics and plumbers
And union carpenters
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play at the casinos
And drink their six pack dry
And they all have many children
And the children go to school,
And the children all take ritalin
And then to the trade school
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into dad’s business
And marry and then divorce his family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same,
There’s a beige one and a gray one
And a brown one and a white one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

I can’t sing at all so I didn’t bother recording this new cover of the classic original. Perhaps it can be played at the Desco (or THF Realty) annual picnic or at aldermanic fundraisers?

– Steve


The Confederate States of America & Our Cities

The film, C.S.A: The Confederate States of America, is a must see! From IMDB:

Set in an contemporary alternative world where the Confederate States of America managed to win the American Civil War, a British film documentary examines the history of this nation. Beginning with its conquest of the northern states, the film covers the history of this state where racial enslavement became triumphant and the nation carried sinister designs of conquest. Interspersed throughout are various TV commercials of products of a virulent racist nature as well as public service announcements promoting this tyranny. Only at the end do you learn that there is less wholly imagined material in the film than you might suspect.

The film is the work of writer & director Kevin WIllmott, a professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. It is a joint presentation of IFC Films and Spike Lee. IThe film assumes many white abolitionists and freed slaves would have escaped to Canada. ‘m not going to give away any of the specifics as you need to see the film yourself. Suffice to say, it got me thinking.

What if America still permitted/encouraged the immoral act of slavery? Our cities would certainly look different than today. As a society we still would have fallen in love with the car and we would have had a need for housing following WWII. But would the suburban boom have been what it was without demands for civil rights? With slaves to do house and yard work the typical 1950s house may not have been the same. I would imagine houses would have remained larger and that multiple generations would have stayed together more than in our reality. Literal industrial slave labor would have kept many manufacturing jobs in America — why export to foreign slave shops. Kathy Lee could have had American-slave made shirts. Retaining a manufacturing base would have meant slave housing around factories. Whites would not have fled cities as they did when having to do sane things like share a drinking fountain or a classroom. If you are white these cities might not sound so bad but consider the many technological and cultural accomplishments that would not have happened.

But the Union did defeat the Confederates and we ended up with institutionalized segregation rather than actual freedom. Northern whites wanted no more to do with blacks than did Southern whites for many decades up to and through the Civil Rights Movement (some could argue, convincingly, this is still the case). So what I want to know is where would our cities be today had white folks, say by a generation removed from the Civil War, not really cared much about race. Yes, a big stretch of the imagination and far from reality but go with me on this.

We would not have had any white flight in this case either as we’d already be fully integrated on a race basis. Economic segregation would still be an issue but I think it would be more balanced than today as we would not have had decades of discrimination in education and employment.

– Steve