Walking Helps Build Community

Photo of a group walk from  Mary R. Vogt on morguefile.com

Over the summer I saw several notices about "walks with the mayor" in two different communities. While these efforts seem to focus on improving the health of people living in those areas by encouraging walking, I can see how these walks also have the potential to help build a strong community. (Photo credit: Mary R. Vogt on morguefile.com)

Walking the streets of your city or village can help you better see those little things that can be improved – things you would never notice in a car. It might be a section of uneven sidewalk that could be simply fixed with some "mud-jacking" of the slabs. It might be a section of walk where bushes have overgrown the path or sidewalk and need to be trimmed. Perhaps walkers might discover areas where a few well-placed trash receptacles could deter littering. On the other hand, walking also helps people discover those little things that make the town interesting and a great place to live. Someone might have planted a beautiful flower garden along the public sidewalk. Walkers might also discover the city has installed a water fountain in a handy location – the type that also has a place for dogs to get their own drink. There could be a stretch of street where the city has planted a nice selection of trees that provide shade.  

If someone with a disability is on the walk, accessibility can also become very apparent. Many people are not aware of impediments to mobility that might be present in a community until they are walking with someone who cannot enjoy the same access because of barriers such as curbs. People might discover the access they took for granted to specific destinations such as parks, public places, or areas offering public services is limited due to barriers for people with disabilities.

The other benefit of a "Mayor's walk" is that it gives everyone time to talk and get to know each other better. People can find out they share common friends, interests, or concerns. Many times community topics not necessarily related to pedestrian or transportation facilities can be talked about. Maybe someone always wanted to start a book club at the local library but never knew if anyone would be interested and through a discussion on the walk realized several others have been wanting the same thing.

These are just a few of the positive outcomes that can be discovered by taking some time to organize and host a walk in a community. It would be great to hear from anyone out there who has either held a walk like this or attended one in their community. How difficult was it to arrange, what was the attendance and interest level, and what benefits did people discover from participating? And for those of you from colder climates who are thinking these walks can only be done during the warmer months, you can check out the City of Elgin's Facebook post indicating their plan to host them in an indoor facility: 






SL9B and Community Planning


This month, the community in Second Life celebrates its 9th birthday, otherwise known as SL9B. This seems to be the first year that the celebration is not sponsored or hosted by Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life. Instead, this year, Linden Lab announced the theme of the birthday would be community and that the community should host their own individual celebrations. The reaction from many people at first seemed to be disappointment, but it quickly changed over to a determined effort to put together a central location similar to what was done in the past. This was thanks to the efforts of a group of organizers and sponsors who donated space and time and talent to get the land set up for the event and a website to support the activities. They quickly put out a call for exhibitors and volunteers that has been answered by hundreds of people. This is one of the many aspects of Second Life that fascinates and captures me – the ability of the people there to get something done in an organized and collaborative and efficient and quick manner. If only we had this capability in our offline communities.

Anyway, I had not participated in a Second Life birthday since I think SL5B. And I wasn't sure about participating this year until I saw how the community pulled together to organize this event and really thought about the community theme and where I might fit into all that. It seemed the perfect time to begin putting together a community plan!

If you've read my previous posts on this, you're probably aware I have thought for some time a community plan is exactly what we need at this point in our development. Normally in an offline community, this process would be started by city planners. But there's no virtual planners on staff at Linden Lab so there's no one to reach out and suggest we start the process. Over the last few months, I talked about the idea with some other members of Second Life who also thought it would be worthwhile. But I don't think any of us were sure it could be done without their involvement. 

But after watching SL9B unfold, I thought, if we can have our own birthday celebration, why can't we create our own plan? Something else that inspired and convinced me to apply and volunteer was a set of videos created by Crap Mariner. Dressed as "Death" he put together a series of videos to promote SL9B and explain what was going on. Glossing over these, someone might at first dismiss them as goofy fun, but I would encourage people to really watch them and think about their message. What he has accomplished with these deserves a whole other blog post by someone who is more adept at analyzing motivation, marketing, and promotion. Here's one of the first videos (so far he has created 18 videos):

Anyway, I ended up applying to exhibit and fortunately was accepted! Basically the community plan exhibit, which is named Virtual Vision 2020, explains and promotes the idea and development of a community plan for Second Life. I'm hoping people will stop by to share their thoughts and ideas about the community, where they'd like to see it go, and how they think we can get there. There's also a website set up to support development of the plan and to offer a place where people can leave feedback: Virtual Vision 2020 

I am also hoping that a friend of mine, Vanish Firecaster, will add more information to the exhibit that will help people explore what it means to be a citizen of a virtual world. He recently posted, World of Democracycraft, highlighting an essay by Cory Doctorow: "Why Online Games are Dictatorships." If you are a member of Second Life or any other virtual community, I'd suggest checking it out.

SL9B will be open from June 18-27. Make sure you stop by to visit the Virtual Vision 2020 Exhibit, share your thoughts and ideas, pick up a mini Avatar Birthday Fountain, or just say hi! And be sure to thank the sponsors and organizers – they have put together an amazing event!

SL9B Exhibit



Applying a Local Government Management Structure to Second Life

Today's post is a break from my usual "A Day in the Life. . ." series. This break is due to two reasons: taking time off for the holiday and working on a project I am submitting to the Federal Virtual World Challenge.

The Growing Digital Community

Lately I've been thinking a lot about communities. I guess this isn't too unusual because I tend to do this anyway as part of my job working for local government. But lately it's been different. And as crazy as it sounds, I think playing Farmville started it all. Yes, aside from inspiring me to dream up an agriculturally themed set of Transformers, playing Farmville has also driven home the point that I have truly become part of a community other than the one in which I physically live. (Which, by the way, why is Farmville selling stuffed animals when they could have been selling a whole line of these cool Transformers!?)

Sure some of the people I am neighbors with on Farmville are people I know offline – one is even a best friend from high school. But there are also many who I have only known through our mutual use of virtual worlds like Second Life. I don't know all of them as well as I knew my best friend – the majority of people I know from Second Life are more like acquaintances and most are people I have never physically met. But other than the difference of meeting digitally vs. physically, there seems to be little difference from the types of relationships I have offline. I am normally best friends with only a few and acquaintances with many. Some I may only know by name because I hear about their work or see their name in the paper. And this is also how I know of many in Second Life.

The Management of Second Life

So it was with these thoughts I read several blog posts about the resignation of Kimberly Salzer (Kim Linden), former VP of Marketing at Linden Lab – the creators and hosts of Second Life. Two posts in particular ( Communications and the Lab. Again, by Inara Pey, and A Rosedale by Any Other Name… by Aeonix Aeon.) explored Salzer's work, her influence on Second Life, and why it seems that the people running the ship seem to have forgotten they have passengers. I agree with much of what they have observed and with most of their suggestions for improvement. Yes, Linden Lab needs to come to the realization they have created an actual place that people depend on for meeting people, learning, having fun, hanging out, and for some, earning an income. Second Life is not a game any more than Chicago is a game because the Bears, Sox, Cubs, Bulls, and Blackhawks play games there.

In a way, the company reminds me of a parent who had such great hopes and dreams for their child to grow up and fit their mold of the perfect child. But the child grew up and become their own person with their own hopes and dreams that were much different than what the parent had planned. And now the parent is in denial or at least agitated. They don't seem to know or recognize this person who came home for Thanksgiving. At times, they don't know how to treat them. And the big question is will they accept the fact that the future of their child is not entirely under their control or will they, like some parents who fall into this trap, spend their time trying to convince their grown-up child that the parent will always know what is best for the child?

As caretakers of our communities, those of us who are public servants can also fall into this trap. We can think that our idea of how the community should look, operate, or function is best. But the citizens might think very differently. And this group vision can change over time. This is why we have a structure in place to manage the operation of our communities and why we regularly update strategic plans and create new comprehensive plans.

For a few years now, I've often thought the system we have in place in local government would work well for Second Life. There is such a similarity between the community that is Second Life and the community in which we physically spend time. So I have been waiting for Linden Lab to see this same comparison. And yet they have not. And I wondered why.

I started thinking after reading the posts today that most people probably aren't intimately aware of what exactly goes on in government. In fact, based on recent articles in newspapers, people probably get the impression that nothing really gets done by government – there's only a bunch of lazy, uneducated, not-good-enough-to-get-a-job-in-private-industry people sitting around doing nothing at all waiting to retire to collect a fat pension. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. There's a whole system in place for managing communities that's been developed over thousands of years. Is it perfect? No, because communities are people, and people are not easily managed, but the system works most of the time. We all are supported by our local governments, and most of us provide this support so well that people have forgotten we are even here working for them 24/7. So maybe the Lab doesn't seriously consider this as a solution because they just aren't familiar with it.

Applying a Local Government Management Structure to Second Life

So, I'm adding my voice to the others out there offering suggestions to the Lab. And I've laid out below a beginning framework of operation based on how we manage physical communities. And because the digital space has some challenges and issues unlike many we normally deal with, the framework would have to be refined over time. In the end, I figure this structure could fit within the structure of a private business like Linden Lab, and it can't do any worse than the current setup.  

Applying a Local Government Management Structure to Second Life

Here is a brief description of what I was thinking about the basic function for each.

Chief Adminstrator – this is normally the city manager who provides the overall structure and leadership for the team. This person also makes sure the team is working towards meeting goals set by the strategic plan and doing so within budgetary limits. For Second Life this would be the CEO (Rodvik).

Community – this is the most important part of the structure because without a community there is no reason for this organization. For Second Life, this would be all the users/customers.

Community Board – this is normally the elected body chosen by the community to represent their interests in management of the community. For Second Life, I would suggest that the community be divided into regions based on what would make sense to the users. Some suggestions are: mainland, private land, adult land, etc. And then allowing premium members from each region to vote for their representatives to serve on this board. Based on offline experience and current in-world active population, I would also suggest limiting this elected board to 20 members with 2 from each region and a term of 2 years for each. Of course, because Second Life is a private company, not an actual government, this board can only serve in an advisory capacity.


Legal – the function of this office is straightforward and probably already in place at Linden Lab. However, perhaps this department could be expanded to offer services to the Premium members of Second Life. There's such a large group of users who are developing new content and products, perhaps a small office to offer advice on the legal aspect of trademarks, patents, and business would be helpful.

Finance – the function of this office is also obvious and also probably already in place at Linden Lab. Based on feedback from users, I would only suggest beefing up the customer service aspect. Perhaps adding a 311 type center that would not only deal with billing but all "citizen" service communication would be helpful. I realize Linden Lab must already have something like this, but patterning it off the 311 system might help improve its operation.

Communication/Public Relations – again, the Lab must already have something like this – perhaps it is their marketing department. It just seems that they could do more not only in-world, but in the physical world.

Human Relations – another typical office that is most likely already in place at Linden Lab for personnel and other employee issues.

Community Development – in local government this office helps carry out the community plans, helps develop policies, oversees building and development within the community, enforces zoning and other policies. These functions could be applied to the world of Second Life. We've already seen that zoning was eventually needed and applied. We also already have "building" policies and requirements that need to be enforced. I think most people who have used Second Life for quite some time would easily see how the work of this office could be implemented in-world. And they'd probably have some additional suggestions for this office.

Economic Development – like in our physical world, the economic growth and success of the community is vital. In local government, this office acts a liason to business, analyzes business and tourism within the city, supports local businesses and those looking at setting up a business. And the office promotes tourism and marketing of the community. Staff can also oversee events and act as a liason and offer support for groups hosting events in the community. Again, I think most residents of Second Life could easily see how the work of htis office could be implemented in Second Life.

Public Works – of all the departments in local government, this is the one that would be the least similar in its application to the virtual environment. In the physical world, public works provides and maintains physical infrastructure like roads, water, sewers, and electricity. But there's no need of these things in a virtual environment. Instead there is hardware and software supporting the operation, access, and management of the world. And there is the in-world infrastructure already created and maintained by the existing Linden Lab Public Works department.

Education – this office is not always a function of local government. However, because of the needs of the users in Second Life, it does seem that it would be a beneficial office to maintain. It would support training for Lab employees as well as education of users. This is probably already a function in place at Linden Lab. An office for outreach to educational efforts on the grid and educational institutions operating in the physical world would also be useful.


Citizen committees provide an important function for local government. They can help focus community interest and efforts and help advise management. Committees would be helpful in Second Life, and there is already somewhat of a structure in place in Second Life to work with. I've listed a few committee suggestions, but I'm sure the users of Second Life would have other suggestions. It would also be helpful for the Lab to offer a small budget for each committee to help them carry out their goals.


Another important process used by local government is to hold public hearings to help develop strategic plans, comprehensive plans, zoning changes, fee changes, etc. Public hearing feedback is normally advisory in nature, but can help prevent development of bad policy and unsuccessful projects.

Of course, I realize Linden Lab will probably never implement this, but I figured it was worth a shot at putting it out there for discussion.