The Bloq

Of the three topics/options, community fascinates me the most. This may have something to do with my background in Planning and Urban Design but I have always been fascinated by how tech can help forge new relationships between community members as well as offer tools to engage their local municipality. Successful communities really boil down to the block. Whether its an active street life that brings vibrancy to the neighborhood or regular block parties to rally the community on set occasions, the block is extremely important in shaping the character of a community. But relationships between neighbors alone do not drive this success... it is important to consider how action oriented a given block is, or a given neighborhood. Communities grow stronger when their members work together to define and build towards a common vision. Collaboration is essential. It builds trust and transparency. But it requires cooperation and coordination at a municipal level as well.

There are a number of social networks that have emerged to tackle the challenge of community, aiming to channel online activity into tangible physical action. Nextdoor is the first thing to come to mind... instead of discussing precedents, however, I'll briefly say there is much room for improvement.

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The Bloq is a concept that acknowledges three distinct stakeholders that emerge within successful communities. I will refer to them as Dwellers, Leaders, and Municipal Authorities. Municipal Authorities manage municipal infrastructure, which has only recently begun to embrace the potential offered by digital tools. They are responsible for services that affect any given block and supply the permits and other legal structure should the need arise among local residents. Leaders are actively engaged with their municipal authorities. They take it upon themselves to call in complaints, meet newcomers and organize events. The more leaders on a given block, the more likely larger events will take place. Finally, there are the Dwellers. Dwellers are concerned about the quality of their neighborhood and are eager to participate in upcoming events but are generally more passive in their engagement of the larger process. (These assumptions are not grounded in recent research but I have observed some variations on this dynamic to exist in the college neighborhoods of Chicago, housing projects in Brooklyn, and my hometown community of Evanston.) The Bloq thinks about an experience that bridges these three groups in the hopes of providing a digital infrastructure for building a stronger community.

The Bloq approaches this challenge through two types of community oriented actions. Issues, and Ideas.

Issues embrace the power of the crowd and rely on a direct link to Municipal Authorities. Both Dwellers and Leaders can identify issues on their block and through a simple voting mechanism, prioritize their concerns. As a mobile application, the assumption is someone will identify an issue, mark it on the map, take a photo, and log it. This process does not make sense on a desktop and guided the rest of the design process (the entire resident-facing side of the application relies on the very fact that people are out and about in their community). As issues are raised at the block level, a municipal dashboard paints an interesting overview of the city and allows Municipal Authorities to identify courses of action that optimize their reach and effectiveness in addressing block-level concerns.

Ideas embrace the slightly vertical dynamic that exists between Dwellers and Leaders, providing two tiers of engagement catered specifically towards each. Anybody can have an idea about how to bring their community together but trust is often needed to take action on these ideas. By providing Leaders with a direct link to Municipal Authorities, tasks that often go neglected, such as acquiring the correct permits for a larger community event, become an easy part of the process and quickly divided up among those willing to help. Municipal Authorities can specify what permits are needed for a given event type and grant or deny these permits based on how much support the event actually has. Dwellers are notified of said events and can also list themselves to provide needed supplies but are not able to contribute at the municipal level. This is where things get interesting... as well as incredibly vague... a lot more thought needs to be given to what distinguishes a Dweller from a Leader.

My first inclination and what is shown in my wires, is residence verification. While many may not feel comfortable disclosing their residence, even if they live on the block, those who choose to verify their residence are given more responsibility. This step ensures that those in leadership roles are transparent and available to their immediate neighborhood. Simple game mechanics also ensure a reputation of sorts... if you are actively taking part in fielding ideas and documenting block-level issues, you are seen as a more action oriented member of the community. Again, these concepts are shallow at best and are the subject of many projects within this domain... there's a lot to dig into and the wires scrape the surface. In the end, communities will find ways to connect in physical ways, but The Bloq can help facilitate these interactions by providing an experience that engages Dwellers, Leaders, and Municipal Authorities in the pursuit of a shared vision.