Community news sites: “make the obscure findable”

In the next six months, I plan to apply everything I’ve learned during my MA Online Journalism course in Birmingham by launching a community news site for Birch Cliff, the Toronto neighbourhood where I live.

The goal is to provide obsessively local news coverage on subjects of interest to the 15,000 residents of Birch Cliff such as crime, traffic problems, garbage pick-up, snow removal, local sports, the farmer’s market, restaurants and real estate.

Making information “findable”

In the UK, hyperlocal sites are all the rage and there’s a real sense that if communities develop a powerful online voice, they can better communicate and influence events at the neighbourhood level.  Paul Bradshaw, has written numerous posts about hyperlocal news and, among other things, he says local news sites have a duty to enrich communities by making the “invisible visible; the obscure findable”.

How Councillor Gary Crawford voted

To that end, I have dug deep into the City of Toronto’s new open data website and ploughed through some data to try and find out what our new City Councillor in Birch Cliff Gary Crawford has been up to since we elected him in October 2010.  The spreadsheet below lists every vote that’s taken place at City Council since the election and tells his constituents how Gary Crawford voted each and every time.  You can search the data many ways — by date, by issue or agenda item.  You can also compare Crawford’s voting pattern to the pattern of Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

I’ve done some colour-coding to make the spreadsheet easier to read, particularly when it comes to hot button issues in Toronto such as designating the TTC an essential service, repealing the personal vehicle tax and reducing councillor’s expense budgets

You can view the spreadsheet by clicking here.

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15 Responses to Community news sites: “make the obscure findable”

  1. Lisa Birch says:

    Interesting…Crawford and Ford seem to be on the same page…..will be very concerned about this when debate starts again as to whether to make Medical Emergency Services an essential service…..ah….should be no debate…..but hope that Crawford and Ford will make the obvious choice here. The plan is too cut their budget by about 3 %…..just hope this does not cause increase in delay of ambulance response times…….we do not have enough crews on the road as it is.

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  3. nik says:

    Looking forward to your hyperlocal news!! Re council voting & open data, are there any useful insights that you’ve derived from the data? Its whst we do with the data and howvwe interpret it & share out that make the open data ‘come alive’

  4. Alex Schmidt says:

    Very valuable information. There is a great deal of interest in the new City administration – and no shortage of controversial issues. Recording our local Councillor’s voting record is an important aid re accountability. There has also been some discussion about the need for some kind of effective community representation, organization to address Birchcliff issues. Information is such a key part of this process, engaging the community – what you are doing is great news… so to speak.

  5. S.Allen says:

    Critical info for a ward in transition. The colour-coding of the chart, allowing for quick analysis, was much appreciated.
    After years of stalwart representation by the popular Brain Ashton (just under 80% of vote ’06), the insight into the direction of Councillor Crawford’s vote is a useful and enlightening tool.

  6. Avis Favaro says:

    hi Hedy

    love the website and the Birchcliff information.

    hope to see you soon

    Avis

  7. Louise says:

    Bravo! A web site dedicated to Birch Cliff is long overdue. I have often felt our community suffers from an inferiority complex due to our proximity to the Beach.
    Moreover, after attending a recent CCQLD meeting I left feeling unimpressed with our new councillor’s ability to succinctly address citizens’ queries and felt unsure about the leadership he will provide on this serious issue. Therefore having found his voting record here, this will allow me to better understand our new city councillor.

  8. Bob Weiers says:

    It’s early days at council and Ford’s honeymoon period is still going strong (+60% approval rating). A real measure of Crawford’s alliance – if there is one – with Ford will come in the days ahead when city council has to make the cuts to the budget to pay for the end of the car tax and the land tsfr tax. ($250M) . What is also interesting is how the rookie class Crawford belongs to will divide up in the face of tough choices, where they land will make of break Ford’s first term as mayor. Whether they know it or not, Crawford and those rookies have a lot of political weight to throw around, if they play their cards carefully. Info like yours will make it easier to watch.

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  10. John says:

    Crawford votes with Ford 99% of the time. I don’t recall Crawford telling us he was a devoted Ford follower during the election. Why is he doing this? Did he and Fords strike a deal we don’t know about? What could Crawford gain from such a union that could possibly help Birchcliff? There are a lot of questions that his voting record suggests. It’s time for Crawford to call a public meeting to explain himself and to hear from Birchcliff citizens.

  11. John says:

    I posted questions about Crawford’s devotion to Ford on council votes. Gary and I talked today. He votes with Ford for 2 reasons: first, because he agrees with him; second, because he hopes his Ford votes will give him ( Gary) access to mayoral power when it comes to the Quarry Lands decisions. He said he did not identify himself as a Ford councillor during the election. He claims to be independent in spite of the record. I urged him to hold a public meeting on all these issues ASAP. and reminded him of the deep feelings here last seen at the Quarry demonstration where thousands turned out. As for the Quarry I don’t see how Ford’s power is going to change the problems; barring divine intervention it looks like there will be 2 towers to begin, followed by more towers. There probably won’t be townhouses or low-rise anything on the site because the OMB has greenlighted the developers’ right to build towers. That leaves tinkering with height, setbacks, roads and services. Is this what Gary hopes to influence in return for voting with the Fords every chance he gets? Seems like a devil’s bargain for very little gain.

  12. hedykorbee says:

    Hi John – thanks your comments. When I have a little more time, I plan to update the voting record so we can get a bigger picture on what’s happened at Council since March. I know that Gary has been working very closely with the folks at Concerned Citizens for Quarry Lands Development and, if you haven’t done so already, you can check out their blog here: http://bit.ly/rshwc9. Gary has indicated in the past that solving the Quarry Lands issue is his number one priority and I don’t think the CCQLD has given up yet.

    • John says:

      Thank you, Hedy, for starting this blog and letting us speak to one another. And thanks for making the point about Gary working with CCQLD on the Quarry. I support any efforts to help these people. It’s the other side of Gary’s political doings that I find disturbing. Please continue your work on our behalf.
      John

    • John says:

      Hedy, thanks again for your work; it benefits all of us. Have you seen the ALL FIRED UP IN THE BIG SMOKE blog? It looks closely at Councillor Crawford’s actions at council. On the day that Gary voted to remove the bike lanes in his ward he also voted 10 times against any further consultation on the matter. Why the negative position on a pretty harmless series of motions? Why did Gary vote to remove our bike lanes? It seems we lost them because Gary wanted to join the Fords’ faction against the Jarvis lanes. Our loss was collateral damage. This blog and Matt Elliot’s diligent attention to city councillors are a great tool for our education.
      John

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