The last Democrat in the White House said we had to have a national discussion about race. There’s been total silence around issues of race with this president. But, as you see, whether there is silence, or an elevation of the discussion of race, you still have polarization. It will take more generations, I suspect, before we eliminate these deep feelings.

Fredrick Harris, director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University
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Finally a CityCamp in Oakland!

Amid the craziness of an election season, negative press all around, people getting political on Facebook, our nation becoming more and more polarized and a never ending stream of government corruption and scandals it’s hard to expect that regular people have any trust or interest in government anymore.  But that can and must change.  And guess what? You can play a part in this important change! Even in Oakland, a city with quite a mixed history…

CityCamp is in town! We at OpenOakland are proud to announce the first ever CityCamp in Oakland, visit CityCampOak.org to register now, it’s free and it will be inside City Hall on December 1.  This is an important event for those of us excite about this thing we call Open Government and for those of us who love this city!

cco

Why should you care, and attend?  We all rely on our local governments for so much, from delivering clean water, removing garbage, maintaining streets, parks and libraries and for hosting cultural events.  Like it or not you and I rely on government for a lot, and that’s cool.  In the USA we are blessed with a democracyfor the people and of the people. This system only works when we are all civically involved.  Contrary to popular press there is no “them” and “us”, we are our government, and our government consists of a whole bunch or “us”, that is people who live in our communities.  But there is a twist in this system. If we simply treat our cities like service vending machines- taxes in, service out, then we cannot expect innovation, efficiency and openness.  That is a closed concept, a limited function system that is dumb and doesn’t adapt.

But government can and should be much more. Many of us dig the idea of governmentas a platform: a platform which supports safe communities, job growth, solid schools, business development and innovation.  As a platform we can enable so much in our communities.  To most of you this is likely a new concept, but trust me this matters; our governments have a ton of changing to do, and they will not and can not do it without all of us being involved and engaged.

So come to CityCamp Oakland – it’s a whole day of amazing conversations, sharing, learning and ideation with people from inside city hall, local technologists, community members, journalists, advocates, teachers and other awesome people who care about their city and what it can really be.  CityCamps are unconferences- we build our agenda on the day. It’s fun. Seriously. You can lead a session on anything you want, it can be a new idea for a government/community partnership, a data issue, a possible technology solution.

CityCamps are a gateway drug to modern civic engagement.  We have two big choices in a Democracy- to sit back and be consumers (read- let others do the leading and have no say in how our country is run) or we can be citizens- actively involved in our communities. 

We just heard that the City Administrator is taking a lead from Mayor Ed Lee in SF and offering staff a day’s leave if they attend too, which is brilliant leadership- it’s often hard to encourage overworked, isolated city staff to waste a weekend day like this. So thank you Deanna for supporting your team and helping us to build a stronger community through real conversations and collaboration!

See you there December 1st!  This is a rare positive event in this political climate, come help us write the future of active, engaged democracy!!

CityCampOak.org

Open Government in Oakland’s Elections

This month the OpenOakland brigade launched the OpenGov Pledge for all candidates seeking election for Oakland’s City Council and Attorney seats. As of today we have nine candidates who have signed on to our campaign in just a couple of days work, check out who has been quick to the draw and which of your local candidates have yet to commit here:

OaklandCandidates.org

Why would an organization of techs, software developers, engineers and advocates bother with something like a pledge?  It’s because this community is being activated more than ever to participate and to become active, engaged citizens, and we’re bringing with us many of the ideals, perspectives and design approaches common in opensource technology development community. Openness, collaboration, sharing, networked communities and networked project teams.

From our perspective we believe that open government is important for a thriving and accountable democracy. With the technology that exists today, government and citizen can interact with one another in ways that were unimaginable before. By opening conduits from which the public can communicate with government and access the pertinent information about their city, the needs of the public are better served.

One powerful (and commonly referred to) example of how a commitment to open government can better serve the public is by offering taxpayer-produced data online in a free and easily accessible format. A web portal can be a clearinghouse for public data without the need to engage in potentially lengthy and costly public record requests. Such initiatives, which can be powered with open source technology as we are demonstrating, could save the city money and time while also allowing the public easy access to important information immediately.

As OpenOakland, we’re asking all 2012 candidates for City Council and City Attorney to express support for open government principles by signing the candidate open government pledge, here. Similar pledges were signed by mayoral candidates in San Francisco in 2011 and Honolulu this year.

We all recognize that Oakland is poised for greatness, however this will only be fully realized should governance be improved. We thank candidates for showing they believe in Oakland through their candidacies. We want all those running and all voters to know that the Oakland tech community is eager to pitch in to help you make good, responsive, transparent, open government a reality!

Lastly we are not undertaking this pledge as a means of political maneuvering, as a way to shame any candidates or as a tool to later use as a weapon against anyone, OpenOakland will always be a nonpartisan, nonpolitical organization with a focus and a habit of doing positive, supportive things in ways that lift up our community.  We believe this is important and that our candidates need to know that opengov is a serious issue and that there is a local and worldwide community looking to help them make this a reality, especially when it comes to using technology in new, creative ways!

Next American City Vanguard hits St. Louis

Last week I was humbled to be part of a really amazing group of people- Next American City gathered 40 of the best and brightest people under 40 who are making a significant impact on the future of their city for a two day leadership summit. I was floored when I got accepted into this group at first and during my time in St. Louis I had several realizations.

Firstly, the chance for like minded professionals working in diverse urban environments really need more opportunities to connect and share, to learn from each others success and failures and to be encouraged to excel even more.  Much of the work this group is involved in is hard, changes are slow and rewards are few and far between.  If we are wanting to raise new leaders across our cities to replace the aging boomers currently in control then we must invest in the younger generations wisely.  Exposure to other young leaders is humbling and inspiring and we need both! Without inspiration it’s hard to expect these leaders will sustain their efforts in these important roles and sectors. Without continued humility we risk developing egos that blur our vision of what we are trying to achieve- time with others like these Vanguard should be humbling- 40 people all doing work that we couldn’t really do ourselves, certainly not alone. This is a valuable experience. It’s easy to be big in your own little pond. Humility renders us balanced and fuels the desire to do more great things. Or to start to!

Secondly I realized that this sharing and learning is important to our growth, understanding and thinking. I’ve been part of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership for 6 years and am about to end my three year term on it’s executive committee.  In this network of 37 cities across the USA we often proclaim our value as being a network of professionals with rich data and experience and suggest that this fact is our strength. I disagree- the twice yearly conferences of under 100 people working on urban issues like the folks in the Vanguard are in fact are the two highlights of my year and have been for at least four years.  This drives home the importance of forums to share and learn from our work.  A place to be challenged and inspired, and chance to learn new methods and tools, to be forced to share our own work and thus forced to question what is important or impacting in our own work.  The short time at Vanguard gave us all rich opportunities to share our work, our passions and our frustrations.  Being required to do so is an important process that many of us don’t get pushed to do in our home towns. Or cities.

I’m excited to continue to develop relationships amongst the 2012 Vanguard peeps.  These networks are very powerful in our future- although I’m concerned about network overload personally I see such value in them.  Being able to reach out to a colleague in a city in a different state who has worked through the same issue, being able to jointly develop tools and applications and being able to talk through struggles is an invaluable gift.  For me the NNIP, Code for America and now the Vanguard are perhaps the most valuable things I possess professionally.

Here’s my interview on Next American City on my work in Oakland with Urban Strategies Council and OpenOakland: http://americancity.org/daily/entry/meet-our-vanguard-stephen-spiker

Below are a few pics from the St. Louis Vanguard summit, for more check my photography site:

Welcome to St. Louis?

Welcome to Missouri?

Our welcoming session in the absolutely incredible City Museum

City Museum

Pre-event hangout at Bridge. Don’t ask how many beers they had on tap…

Vanguard @ Bridge

Approaching City Museum- some appropriate confusion and excitement

The Vanguard approach

Inside the wonders of City Museum

Up and up and up

Exploring City Museum

City Museum explorer

The Nebula- awesome co-working space on Cherokee St.

The St. Louis Nebula

Excellent redevelopment work in Old North St. Louis

Old North St. Louis

And finally being regaled by stories from the owner of Blueberry Hill

Blueberry Hill on Delmar Loop

View the whole set on Flickr