Streetlife is Facebook for NIMBYs….or at least this is what many property developers will be afraid of as they eye the launch of this new website aimed at uniting local communities into information-sharing, web-bound co-operatives.
It is exactly the kind of initiative that Eric Pickles sees as the foundation stone of Localism. By using the web to unite into a neighbourhood collective, Streetlife is a Big Society solution, as it facilitates collective responsibility, decision-making and is a private initiative.
From a planning perspective, the shared voice of the communities will have a web-based resource which will allow it to grow and grow – and under Localism that growing voice will also have growing power. The government has already recognised the potential of the internet to facilitate local representation and I envisage many more websites such as Streetlife being developed to cater for this new, local voice.
For those operating in the built environment sector, it means that developers and planners will have to engage with local communities from the very outset of a project as motivated, local representatives with a suitable outlet to air their views and unite a neighbourhood in consensus could spell doom for any unwelcome projects. And websites such as Streetlife represent just such an outlet.
There are other similar outlets too – such as www.streetbank.com, www.landshare.net and www.rightmoveplaces.co.uk – that will provide local people with strong, online voices. In other words, they are just the kind of internet connectivity that can bring development plans to a standstill.
But all this is a very negative perception of the rise in consumer power under Localism – although it is one that I am sure many in the built environment sector are envisaging. Such websites can also be considered as opportunities to engage with local communities, consult with them and work on creating the right solutions to local development needs. This is the approach that developers will have to adopt under the new planning regime.
Modern planning consultation is all about dialogue, as is all communication in web 2.0, and the planning sector is beginning to wake up to this fact.