Friday, May 18, 2012

SFBetterStreets: E-convenience as soft power

Via the @SFAppeal, here's news of a new "customer" Web site set up by San Francisco city government "to assist San Franciscans to make street improvements in their neighborhoods, shopping districts, and workplaces". At first glance: Ooh, nice, empowering e-government, how democratic. (Such bright colors, too!)

Except, it's kind of a Sim City version of local control, where you pick a desired improvement from the ones available on the shelf -- a community pocket park, for example -- and then your chance to exercise control is deciding which corner should get the park and what color the flowers will be.

The site is called SFBetterStreets, and it pleasantly and perkily explains/enforces the "SF Better Streets" municipal plan, which apparently won an award last year.

It does seem helpful in explaining some of the policies, processes, ordinances and institutional biases that a neighborhood organization would be dealing with at the start of a campaign. But -- actually to follow this site's guidance on the possibilities open to neighborhood organizers? It would be like serving on your local student council: easy to engage in lots of constructive unpaid creative labor while you follow paths laid out for you, but difficult and confusing as soon as you show initiative in an unenvisioned direction.

It doesn't, just for example, invite or even quite recognize the possibility of complaints about the recently proposed SFPark parking meter expansion. (Search for the term "SFPark" and you get, "Oooops! Sorry, but nothing matched your search criteria. Please try again with some different keywords.") No need to add (but I will anyhow) that it doesn't explain how neighbors could campaign for greater tolerance toward unlicensed street vendors or vehicular residents.

And here's the core of the page on street artists:
"The San Francisco Arts Commission licenses street artists in San Francisco. Artists must present their work to a screening committee, obtain a certiļ¬cate licensing them to sell their work, and participate in a lottery to see which spaces they will occupy. The Board of Supervisors sets appropriate locations for street artists."
Oh. Well, that must be that, then.

And, well, the art student I defended last year who was facing an 869 MPC infraction charge for allegedly practicing his profession on Fisherman's Wharf? Not a real stakeholder, I guess.

It all brings to mind the retired general in 100 Years of Solitude who "could never understand the sense of a contest in which the two adversaries have agreed upon the rules."

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