Thursday, February 24, 2011

Is there such a thing as a civic quotient?

Among the books mentioned during Civics 101 was Bowling Alone, an influential documentation of the increasing fragmentation and isolation of modern US living.

How social is our society? Are there metrics that we can apply, or must we rely on anecdotal evidence? Clearly there are different intensities of sociability in different communities. In mine, which has 1,600 homes, we have one organization that attracts a small fraction of the residents to meetings.

Here's a bit of random evidence that I found startling -- from a discussion about "Creating Healthy, Livable Cities" on LinkedIn, from Han Blok, a contributor based in The Netherlands:

Citizens are in general too lonesome and too individualistic. My village has 650 houses and we have 50 active social associations (culture, hobby, sport etc) all associations run by volunteers. many similar villages are present at 5 km distance. The houses and streets are not the core of the structure but the integrated social structure is the essence. Such social cores could also be achieved in neighboorhoods or quarters of larger cities. It requires thinking about social behaviour not calculating the supporting force of a concrete construction. A 20 store city building may house the same number of living units without any social coherence and most people there feel lonesome.
What are the drivers behind this level of intense volunteerism and social creativity? Does it help to ask: which is a more telling metric of "civicness": Geoffrey West's model of cities as supercenters of creativity, or a metric that compares things like civic participation?

Tablets for Sustainability

From a City of Sarasota Press Release:
Sarasota, FL: In an effort to enhance operational efficiencies while maintaining its focus on green initiatives, the City Commission will begin using iPads, the electronic tablet created by Apple . . ..

The majority of City Commissioners and all three Charter Officials will use the iPads. An application designed for City Commission agendas allows users to bookmark pages and even highlight and write notes on individual documents.

Each tablet cost $784 including accessories. It is estimated the City will accrue a savings of approximately $7,500 per year in paper and printing costs. One of the City Commission’s top five priorities is environmental sustainability.

Other governmental entities throughout Florida are implementing the new technology including Ormand Beach, Palm Coast and Sarasota County.

For more information, call City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini at 941-954-4169.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A few open spots for Civics 101

A few places remain for the upcoming Civics 101. Here's a note from County Civics Coordinator Vickie French:

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all doing well. I went to the opera to see La Boheme this past Saturday night. In the brochure provided there is a list of volunteers. I recognized 8 names from Civics. You are everywhere contributing to what makes Sarasota so special.

I am writing to you because I need your help recruiting participants for the spring class. It was almost full and have had 2 people cancel just today. I still need 3-6 more people. Work your magic. The schedule is attached and I have added in some exciting new tours for this session

Thank you in advance for your efforts. By the way, we’ll be having another Civics alumni event May 19th so mark your calendars and I’ll send out information as the date approaches.

Vickie French

Neighborhood Coordinator

Sarasota County Government

1660 Ringling Blvd. 4th Floor

Sarasota, FL 34236


Friday, February 18, 2011

County systems will be down this weekend

Thanks to Lynda Seidl for sending along this notice:

Hello All,

Please be aware that County email, the main County website, and other computer-based programs including Volunteer Sarasota will be down this coming weekend for all or part of the weekend. The County is moving its servers to a secure central location and so functionality will be affected. Systems should be up and running by Monday or Tuesday at the latest. County phones will be functioning, but the Call Center will not have access to information at the same level they normally have.

Please forward to volunteer groups and other County information customers.

Thank you,

Lynda Eppinger, Parks Naturalist

Sarasota County Parks and Recreation

ph. 941-650-2487

Respect for Nature:

It Starts in Parks!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Getting out the word

It's taken a little time, but some open media, or semi-open media, are sprouting up in the Sarasota area. For those who might be interested in getting the word out about events, causes, issues, and gatherings, two relatively new and efficient web platforms are helping groups in the community share information online.

The first is Saraota Patch, the local branch of the burgeoning national network of news and info sites owned by AOL, but enjoying the advice and oversight of a team of veteran journalists.

Patch is making use of a variety of "new media" tools to enable people not simply to "post" a message, but also to link to it, to share it with others on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and to evaluate its impact.

Recent example: I wanted to share info about the upcoming Friends of Sarasota County Parks (FOSCP) fundraiser, so I went to the Events page on Patch and clicked on "Put it on the calendar." After a painless registration, I was able to post an entire press release with photos, pinpoint the location on a map, and include contact information. Best of all, the finished announcement received its own link, which means it can stand alone, and be linked to from a blog or social media platform (e.g., Twitter). Since it was posted, it's been recommended five times on Facebook and tweeted as well, so I know it's being seen.

The second resource was created for Friends of Sarasota County Parks (FOSCP)-- it's their new website offering information about various events in and around the county's considerable network of parks.

In order to post to the FOSCP site, you need either to be or to know someone who is a member of a FOSCP chapter (i.e., a "semi-open" resource). With access to the site, members can post images, text, links, essentially anything that can be done on a blog. As with Patch, you can go back later and edit the info if anything needs to be updated.

Again, the page you create with your information receives its own link. So, although it's not yet integrated with auto-tweeting and such, you can still insert links, as I am doing here, to see the same Snook Haven event on the FOSCP site.

Two last points: first, both Patch and the FOSCP site are young endeavors that will grow as awareness of social media expands. The power of the mobile web for organizing -- whether for corporate marketing or for more citizenly engagement (e.g., Tahrir Square) is still in its early stages.

Second, both Patch and the FOSCP site -- as well as major blogging platforms, Twitter and Facebook -- are all available to anyone on the Net, at no charge. This is free speech -- all that's needed is that people step up and use it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Calling all Volunteers for Friends of Parks Event

Please consider this opportunity to volunteer for the well being of our parks:

The March 12th event, sponsored by Friends of Sarasota County Parks, will be at Snook Haven. Volunteers are needed, and there are opportunities for vendors. Contact Marianne with FOSCP to get involved.

More here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A few openings remain for new Civics 101 class

Some news about the upcoming "semester" of Civics 101 -- now's a good time to let people know who might be interested, it's filling fast:

Seats still open for Civics 101 
Sarasota County government’s popular Civics 101 program still has a few seats open for the session beginning March 10. 
Civics 101 is a 10-week program that introduces people to the operations and services of Sarasota County government. Each week, staffs from different county departments guide participants through a particular area, exposing them to the inner workings of county government. The classes give students a better understanding of how county government works, and allows them to build relationships with county staff. Sessions are offered at no charge in the spring and fall each year to Sarasota County residents and anyone working in Sarasota County. Twenty-five people are selected each term on a first-come, first-served basis. 
Applications are available here.
The course schedule is available here.
For more information about Civics 101, call the Sarasota County Call Center at 941-861-5000 or e-mail

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


A site for anyone interested in making government more open and accessible is Public.Resource.Org. Among other efforts, it offers directories to a wealth of government agencies - the Patent Office, IRS, GPO, GAO, etc. - as well as to laws, public safety codes and information that the site calls the "operating system" of the nation. A non-profit site for the public.

Civic Literacy

Members of Civics 101 will remember our quizzes at the finales of several of our classes. Civics takes on a whole different set of concerns at differing levels of political order. Here, for example, is a civics quiz that relates primarily to the federal level, with some history and constitutional law thrown in:

The site, maintained by the rather traditionalist Intercollegiate Studies Institute, has related resources including three key findings from its survey.