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Staying Informed And Engaged In 2013

February 4, 2013 Events/Meetings, STL Region 24 Comments

Continuing the theme from Saturday (Political Engagement & Social Media) I want to talk more about engagement. Many people are working hard to make a difference in St. Louis, each doing their best. Some are involved in more than one effort.

Some seemed upset that last week’s City Affair panel discussion on political engagement wasn’t mentioned in the places they check, so they didn’t know about the event in advance. To help out here is how you can contact some local mainstream media:

This may come as a complete shock, but the people who work hard to put together events like City Affair, Pecha-Kucha STL, etc. don’t actually get to dictate what ends up on mainstream media. Media outlets have consultants, market research and assignment editors that decide what to tell you about.

Here at UrbanReviewSTL.com I’m the only one responsible for what is, and isn’t, presented here. I generally don’t blog about an event before it happens, I like to attend, take a pic or two, then maybe post something about it afterwards. That’s what I did on Saturday.  That said, I do share additional information via the UrbanReviewSTL Facebook page and Twitter account. When event organizers send me ads for upcoming events I run those for free. For example: Wall Ball 2013, an fundraiser for Saint Louis City Open Studio  and Gallery.

ABOVE: Top search results for City Affair Political Engagement with the Facebook event at the top of the list followed by nextSTL calendar , the City Affair Tumblr blog and a repost of my saturday post. Click image to view the nextSTL.com calendar.
ABOVE: Top search results for City Affair Political Engagement with the Facebook event at the top of the list followed by nextSTL calendar , the City Affair Tumblr blog and a repost of my saturday post. Click image to view the nextSTL.com calendar.

Not on Facebook or Twitter? Sorry, I can’t call or mail you a postcard to tell you about everything going on in the city you might find of interest. Those who spend hours putting together interesting events also don’t have the time to call you. Another way to stay informed is to stop into places where much activity originates, such as St. Louis Curio Shoppe and STL-Style, both on Cherokee St. RSS is the best way to stay current with many blogs/websites, see What is RSS? to help you get started.

The biggest problem with many of these events is you’d think by those attending the city was 98% white middle class. Last week I told a couple of other gay friends how well represented gay men were at the event, females comprised at least half the crowd, that’s good. But racial minorities were very few, not remotely close to our demographics, not good at all.

Not sure why these events are overwhelmingly white.  According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project blacks use Twitter at twice the rate of whites, hispanics have a slight lead over whites too:

Several demographic groups stand out as having high rates of Twitter usage relative to their peers:

  • African-Americans — Black internet users continue to use Twitter at high rates. More than one quarter of online African-Americans (28%) use Twitter, with 13% doing so on a typical day.
  • Young adults — One quarter (26%) of internet users ages 18-29 use Twitter, nearly double the rate for those ages 30-49. Among the youngest internet users (those ages 18-24), fully 31% are Twitter users.
  • Urban and suburban residents — Residents of urban and suburban areas are significantly more likely to use Twitter than their rural counterparts.

I suppose the fact the last tweet from the City Affair Twitter account (@CityAffair) was on October 7, 2011. Looks like they need to review this wikiHow on How to Link Tumblr to Twitter. But even once tweeting again I realize the composition of those in attendance isn’t going to change without more effort.

But it’s 2013, don’t check your postal mailbox for a newsletter.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "24 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    I agree with many of the points you make here, that both groups and individuals have little control over how various media outlets disseminate the mounds of information they get every day. I also agree that it’s incumbent on individuals interested in any issue seek out ways to stay informed and involved, and I certainly don’t expect any group to know which specific events I might or might not be interested in, and to “invite” me accordingly. I even agree that media evolves and changes in technology create new avenues to spread information. And, as I’ve said in the past, I respect the effort that you put in every day keeping this blog relevant and informative. That said, I do have concerns with your choice to “generally [not] blog about an event before it happens”, but then to “post something about it afterwards”. There’s a fine line between passing on useful information (after the fact and advancing a cause) and the implied one-upsmanship (and implied superiority) that “I knew about this and you didn’t”. Your last post was rife with condescending remarks that did little to advance the larger cause – “Didn’t here [sic] about it? I knew about it . . . ” Instead of framing its as “you missed it because . . . “, it would be much more productive to frame it as “if you want to be involved in future events, here’s how . . . ”

    As for involvement, one thing I learned in Denver is that it’s not all that hard to create a “group” and that it’s much harder to both maintain (and grow) involvement in the group and to achieve credibility. Denver has a registered neighborhood organization ordinance that creates a framework for recognizing groups that want to work with the city (http://www.denvergov.org/YourNeighborhood/RegisteredNeighborhoodOrganizations/tabid/432158/Default.aspx . . ) and providing a two-way street for communication – don’t know if something like it is needed here? And the trick for generating more interest among any group is to focus on specific issues AND provide a path for potential success. I’d wager that the big reason blacks don’t participate in events like this (besides fearing feeling unwelcomed) is that they’ve been “talking” for decades in the city, with few concrete results and little change in issues that are important to THEM. Much like politics, most of us want to spend our time working on the “art of the possible”, not chasing dreams we see as never happening.

    • Moe says:

      Agreed JZ. Condescending remarks not withstanding, some posts especially those after the fact are nothing more than smugness and arogance. Maybe one should look at the demographics of where a meeting is held as well as the socio and economic realities of some population groups to find out why they are not attending. Are there translators? Sign Language interpreters? and other such things at these groups? I highly doubt it. But it’s the white man that comes to rescue the City. Post something in Spanish, Vietnamise, or even Bosinian. Last time I looked they were part of the City also. Not just the white man. And those middle-class attendees? They’re attending because they don’t have children and have to work 2 and 3 jobs to put food on the table so that the white man can pontificate.

  2. guest says:

    “Black people not participating”. That should be a topic of its own post.

    • That’s not accurate though, I’ve attended events where I’m one of the only few whites. What’s not happening often enough, in my mind, are events where blacks & whites participate proportional to the population.

      • guest says:

        “City Affair” is a good example of events attracting few blacks. What’s an example of an event attracting large numbers of blacks?

        • The last one I recall was a candidate forum in the 5th ward at Vashon High School.

          • guest says:

            Other than a political event? A political event at Vashon High School is obviously going to attract a high percentage of blacks. Recent meetings for the O’Fallon Park Community Center have been attended by mostly blacks, but it could be said that even those meetings were politicized. It’s weird, for some reason, blacks stay away from the Facebook-y, Urbanist, City-Affair type events. It’s weird.

          • For all I know a civic-minded group might exist in the African-American community.

          • guest says:

            100 Black Men? Various afro-centric fraternities and sororities? Gateway Classic Foundation? There are lots of civic-minded African-American groups. What’s the connection?

          • TheSharperWon says:

            That one was a no show if my memory serves me correctly!

          • Two of the three candidates on the ballot participated.

  3. RyleyinSTL says:

    100% white, 100% black, Gay, Straight, I couldn’t care less…..the people who show up are the people who care about what City Affair is doing. The information is there for those interested in finding it.

    While Twitter has it usefulness, try subscribing to a few dozen feeds and see how long it takes until you start ignoring the (constant) notifications. I’m hoping it (and Facebook) will die when the ADHD generation starts having children.

    • guest says:

      Not really the case. For example, take the issue of traffic calming. You might have 20 or 30 people show up for a meeting on traffic calming, work on plans, get some level of buy-in, and then perhaps even start making some progress on implementing an action plan. Then what happens? The disengaged, the uninvolved, the defenders of the status quo start complaining about changes and so the work of the planning group is blocked. Happens all the time and explains why many elected officials shun upstart activist/community engagement efforts.

    • JZ71 says:

      I agree, “The information is there for those interested in finding it.” The challenge arises when different sources use different vehicles to try to reach a general audience. There are many, many ways of notifying people, including some that “just go thru the motions” (usually to meet some legal requirement for notification). What I’m seeing with the growth of social media is that few people are on all platforms, while some groups choose to use only a limited number of platforms and/or to continue to move away from paths they previously embraced. Specifically, many groups used to rely primarily on their own websites to post information. As a casual user, how are we supposed to know that there are other venues that we should be checking IF one of the primary, albeit “traditional” gateways is silent on the option?! Some now rely primarily on facebook, leaving no/obsolete/bad info on the still-functioning webpage. (Heck, even City Affair has major gaps in the “monthly” events listed on the link Steve posted.) Some rely more on twitter, while some are moving to Google+. Like many people, I’ve “joined” multiple social media venues over the years, but I don’t check every one of them every day, I just check the few that are relevant to my life, today. Others get checked weekly or monthly or only when I’m forced or reminded to. If the goal is to keep the circle small, by all means, make accessing it as opaque as possible. But if your goal is to be (and be viewed as) relevant, go big and make outreach as broad as possible!

      • Gee, perhaps you should spend your time getting involved with a group or groups and help them reach a broader audience rather than complain they didn’t reach out to you personally. They’re actually out doing something constructive, they’re not perfect but they’re trying.

        • JZ71 says:

          I’m already involved with several local groups, plus I still have to work for a living. There are only so many hours in the day . . . . to tweet, fb, check emails, read online news, read and contribute to blogs . . . .

          • Great, what are the groups and what are they doing to bring people together? How do they get the word out?

          • JZ71 says:

            I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve scaled back my participation since moving to St. Louis, but here are a few, with their primary communication vehicles . . . .
            Lindenwood Park Neighborhood Organization – online newsletter, quarterly meetings
            Metro Transit Advisory Group – email to group members, monthly meetings
            AIA – weekly email newsletter, monthly meetings
            23rd ward – blast emails, monthly tweet-ups
            Citizens for Modern Transit – email newsletter, multiple events

            During my time in Denver, I was (not all at the same time) president of my local neighborhood organization, chair of the Denver Parks Board, chair of the zoning committee for Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, co-chair of the Transportation and Land Use Committee for Blueprint Denver (the rewrite of their Comprehensive Plan), board member on the Regional Transportation District and a member of the AIA Government Affairs Committee (so I get” what it takes to be relevant and to “contribute”). Since these preceded the widespread use of social media (<2005), the primary means of communication were some emails, but mostly print on paper, everything from flyers distributed locally, information in various newspaper and self-published newsletters to phone trees and early attempts at websites.

            The biggest challenge, both then and now, remains connecting people with specific interests with venues to put those interests to work. My involvement started with the city wanting to regulate and permit portable volleyball sets in city parks while I was helping run the architect's volleyball league in the 1980's. It evolved through taking over responsibility for producing the newsletter for the West University Community Association, followed by becoming involved in several local campaigns for candidates running for city council and mayor, appearing before city council to speak on positions taken by various groups and volunteering my time to work on changes to the building code, the zoning ordinance and local traffic issues. These relationships built on themselves, and even now, nearly a decade later, I can easily contact colleagues that still have positions of responsibility in the city.

            The challenge we faced in Denver is that, since groups (RNO's, registered neighborhood organizations) are empowered by local government, and the requirements for being recognized are fairly lax, there is a tendency for overlapping groups to appear on hot-button issues, sometimes with few actual members, claiming to "represent" the interests of their neighbors. When I left Denver in 2004, there were four RNO's claiming to represent my "interests", even though I was actively involved only two of them. That's probably why I'm a little bit skeptical about City Affairs. For better or worse, power in this city lies in our Board of Aldermen. If they choose to ignore their input, City Affairs is destined to remain either a social group or a bitch session (not, in itself, a bad thing, just not very effective). It's great to see Ald. Ogilvie involved, but he's only one of 26. Their real credibility will come when a dozen (or more) aldermen seek their opinions/input, on a regular basis, AND they have a higher visibility in the local community!

          • So you’re on some email lists? I too receive the CMT & AIA emails. Starting a group from scratch is hard work, I applaud those behind City Affair (singular) for their hard work, it’s a thankless job. FYI –Ald Lyda Krewson and Mayor Francis Slay attended this City Affair event and other elected officials have attended others, depending on the location and topic.

          • JZ71 says:

            Hey, I respect any group that’s working to better the city. My three big points are that relying primarily on social media excludes a significant portion of the population from participating (more than traditional media provides), any group needs to earn credibility and respect from those they’re trying to influence / those “in power” (coming from someone who’s sat on both sides of the table) and that it’s better to work from inside the system than to (try and) influence it from the outside. The other point involves schedule – it appears that the

  4. gmichaud says:

    Speaking first about communication, I would think a regular sidebar of scheduled events would only make Urban Review a much more important site to visit. I’m not on facebook nor twitter, nor to I intend to be. Of course it’s your site.

    On your second point about diversity in meetings, there has been huge steps taken towards equality, but there is still a large portion of the population that doesn’t feel included in society. The terrible city planning of St. Louis is a reflection of that alienation.

    • I’d love a calendar of events in the sidebar, perhaps one of the critics would be happy to volunteer to maintain one? I put many hours into this blog already, I have no more to give.

      • gmichaud says:

        i know you put in many hours into the blog. I am surprised you are willing to note events on Facebook and Twitter and not on your legacy blog.
        I get it, it is a good deal of trouble to keep up with scheduled events on top of everything else. ditto for the Post Dispatch, KMOV and the rest.
        You sort of answer your own question about how do these groups get the word out, they don’t.
        Internet blogs are underutilized. Urban Review is one of the few internet sites with decent and stimulating discussions, not perfect, but it blows away just about everything else in St. Louis.
        These organizations I think would benefit by more effective use of the web. For now I will discard facebook and twitter as distractions, especially when basic blog activity is so underdeveloped and underutilized.
        Of course many people are still excluded by the computer, but it is where creating the buzz online can help local participation. That sort of happened with the saucer building on Grand Ave.
        Ultimately the failure belongs to the government and their inability to create a permanent planning process that continually engages the citizens and concerns of groups like City Affair. Without a planning structure, urban issues flounder around like a fish out of water.
        Instead of a proactive planning process, say where the saucer building was part of a larger and ongoing, redevelopment discussion and process, you have reactive planning, which requires groups like City Affair to see who can yell the loudest to protest the latest injustice or laud the latest change. (Even now the saucer building is no more than a one off, without a broader idea of how to help it contribute to the whole).
        It is no surprise then that preservation groups can gain traction championing a real building vs a more abstract planning structure that has trouble capturing the media and public attention.
        An effective planning structure requires government leadership and participation. Absent that the citizens have to form a new government to replace the current ineffective system. (see Paul McKee and the northside)
        In my mind St. Louis could be a much more effective and beautiful city. I think many would agree with that thought, and yet we continue to wallow in ineffective policies. If it was just a matter of who has the nicest city maybe it could be ignored and business as usual would be fine.
        But with the specter of global warming, energy shortages of all types that we know will be real in some future, a thorough discussion about the direction of city and regional life should occur.

        But it’s not happening anywhere. Certainly not with the State proposing a one cent sales tax to raise still another billion for roads. (Ah, it.s only a billion dollars, no discussion necessary)

        The real irony is that an effective and beautiful St. Louis would be a huge money maker and tourist attraction, but the capitalists prefer their old style sprawl as evidence of the millions and millions that are poured into St. Charles county road infrastructure (and surrounding counties). And of course city and regional governments acknowledge their consent through government entities like East West Gateway Council.
        The county and region aside, the City of St. Louis has an opportunity and the architectural bones to achieve a great deal, the real question is why is it not happening? Is it ineffective advertising and outreach by groups like City Affair? I don’t think so.


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