A Twitter in the City

<p> Will the red-hot microblogging platform <a href="http://www.twitter.com" target="_blank">Twitter</a> change the way we live in our cities, how we call for help in an emergency, or even help rally a group to topple the city&#39;s government? Or is it a frivolous technology that simply atomizes our thoughts and relationships into 140-character bits? </p>

Read Time: 3 minutes

April 8, 2009, 7:04 PM PDT

By Robert Goodspeed @rgoodspeed

Will the red-hot microblogging platform Twitter change the way we live in our cities, how we call for help in an emergency, or even help rally a group to topple the city's government? Or is it a frivolous technology that simply atomizes our thoughts and relationships into 140-character bits?

In order for Twitter to impact a local area, it must have some sort of geographic search. Unlike the now-defunct Twitter-like service Dodgeball (which notified your friends if they were physically nearby), Twitter itself has no geographic index save self-reported locations in user profiles. However, users got around that through a number of third party applications. The just-launched Localtweeps.com looks to be the most promising geographic directory of Twitter users yet.

Of course, just because it wasn't designed to support local communities didn't mean it hasn't been used that way. As an example of what we should perhaps call a placetweeter, 02138now ("Harvard Square Now!") has issued 1,284 updates, generally retweets from other members, about goings on in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Any incident involving police or other emergency responders sparks a flurry of tweets reporting speculated or actual causes.

Groups of friends already living in proximity logically use Twitter to stay in touch, so much so that after a mugging an acquaintance of mine who lives in Washington, D.C. used Twitter to ask for help. Three friends dialed 911 for her. Nevertheless, in response to a blog post on the incident the tweet author writes, "you're obviously welcome to have any opinion you like, but it's also not something I sat down and logically plotted out, I was running inside in a panic, and I did what I did. I wouldn't take it as some thesis I wrote on the amazing uses of twitter."

Beyond the subtle influence on urban community life, could Twitter have much more obvious impacts on the way we live in cities? Fellow Planetizen blogger Anthony Townsend reports of a Twitter application helping hungry New Yorkers keep tabs on the notoriously long line at a popular burger stand. On a more ominous note, according to today's New York Times, social media like Twitter and Facebook played some role in rallying an unexpectedly large crowd for a anti-government protest that turned violent in Moldova.

Of course, Twitter could change policy through the more sedate and conventional channel of urban plan making. The regional planning agency the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has set up a Twitter feed to solicit input as part of their Go To 2040 planning initiative, posting tweets on topics like U.S. Census data and federal earmarks affecting Chicago.

I'm not sure what these loosely connected items amount to. Maybe we can discuss it via Twitter at the upcoming American Planning Association conference. How does #apa09 sound for the event hashtag?

Robert Goodspeed

Robert Goodspeed is an Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. He holds a PhD from the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and previously worked for the Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

Green Healthy Community

Making Healthy Places

The editors of the book "Making Healthy Places," recently published in a second edition by Island Press, discuss the intersections of public health and planning, including key concepts such as green gentrification, health impact assessments, and AI.

September 18, 2022 - Laurie Mazur

Suburban Homes

Where Housing Costs Are Falling Fastest

Although median home prices remain close to record highs in many cities, some of the country’s priciest metro areas are seeing home prices plummet.

September 23, 2022 - Bloomberg

Aerial view of homes west of downtown Chicago, Illinois

Chicago ADUs Concentrated in More Affluent Neighborhoods

An analysis of city-issued permits shows that homeowners in gentrified wards are building accessory dwelling units at much higher rates than those in less well-off communities.

September 18, 2022 - Chicago Sun-Times

Miami and Key Biscayne

The Great American Exodus: A Conservative's Perspective

During his keynote speech on September 11 at the National Conservatism Conference in Miami, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis describes the demographic shifts in America since he became governor in 2019 in what he calls the 'Great American Exodus.'

September 27 - The Wall Street Journal

Downtown Houston and Buffalo Bayou

$100 Million to Help Fund Buffalo Bayou Expansion in Houston

Originally proposed in 2019, the Buffalo Park East Master Plan, which would extend Buffalo Bayou Park to the East End and Fifth Ward neighborhoods, is suddenly in high gear.

September 27 - Buffalo Bayou Partnership

View of Seattle skyline with houses in foreground

Community Land Trusts Make Homeownership Accessible

The organizations sell homes to low-income buyers at rates far below market prices, putting homeownership within reach for more families.

September 27 - Next City

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.