Civic-Minded Technology

Bigger is better in Texas, and Lone Star State residents "don't look kindly" on suggestions that they curb their appetite for real estate, Austin's senior planner, George Adams, admitted.

When civic planning officials like Adams go before a roomful of angry motorists who stand to lose a left-turn lane to a landscaped median strip, technology can provide a priceless sense of security. In Austin, basic tools-a scanner and Adobe Systems Inc.'s Photoshop-have helped to sell citizens on an idea by giving them a picture of how restraint and urban renewal can pay off.

Texas residents are not alone in their wariness about sprawl management. Residents and businesses want to spread out, and both are willing to move out-way out-from downtown to get the space and amenities they seek.

These trends are sucking the life out of established urban areas and are straining transportation, education and public services. Many local governments, however, depend on economic development, and some observers question whether localities can be trusted to make temperate planning decisions to curb sprawl. One alternative is to have state governments create statutes to curb urban sprawl on the local level.

Regardless of who takes charge, technology could help local officials make the decisions, present the messages and soften the fears surrounding the the control of growth.

Elsewhere in this issue is another instance where technology helped to solve a civic problem. In Communities, we highlight East Lansing, Mich.'s use of the World Wide Web to identify suspected rioters associated with a disturbance that broke out after Michigan State University lost to Duke University in a Final Four game of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Just days after the riots, the city posted images of rioters and asked for help in identifying them.

City technology executives in East Lansing believe that quick use of the Web let them ease a "black-eye" situation when students were arrested or turned themselves in after exposure on the Internet.

Such use of technology is not without problems, however. After the East Lansing site was hacked, and sensitive information-including the identities of some informants-was released, city officials urged others to tread lightly when faced with a similar situation.

Jennifer Jones

News editor, civic.com

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