Blogger of the Month: Greater Greater Washington
When a D.C. cabbie refused to take David Alpert from downtown Washington to a scruffy neighborhood clear across the city, the poor hack had no idea with whom he was dealing. Alpert, an energetic and street smart new addition to the Washington area's legion of bloggers, immediately got on the cell and worked his way up the chain of command of the District's taxi commission--even while he was still in the cab.
Within minutes, Alpert had D.C. Taxi Commission Chairman Leon Swain on the phone, and Swain asked to speak to the recalcitrant driver, and faster than you can say "install that meter," the cabbie was taking the passenger where he wanted to go, whereupon the driver was under orders to report to Swain's office for a talking-to.
I can't say David Alpert is going to get action like that on every issue he takes on, but his blog, Greater Greater Washington, displays that kind of spunk so often that he's a natural to be May's Blogger of the Month.
Alpert has been in Washington for less than a year, yet he has already sunk his roots in deep enough that he can write with authority on matters of land use, transportation, zoning, development and the constant tug of war between the smart growth crowd and the NIMBYs who square off in one neighborhood after another in this region. After growing up in the Boston suburbs and living in Silicon Valley and New York City--he was an early employee at Google and thus has more freedom now than you or I might to decide how to live--Alpert came to the District because his girl friend got a law job here.
He quickly fell in love with the scale and walkability of the District, with rowhouse neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle, where he's buying a house. And he dove right in to the heart of the debate over how and where the region should grow. Alpert has come to see a generational divide among Washingtonians, with older activists "by and large resisting change, while younger ones are looking at the city with a fresh perspective."
On Greater Greater Washington--just one of several blogs Alpert writes--he is not afraid to take stands. In the eternal battle over whether to reopen Klingle Road, he was on the let-the-road-rot-forever side (he won.) And on whether the downtown Washington Brutalist hulk known as the Third Church of Christian Science should be declared a historic landmark, he's firmly on the side of the demolitionists (yay!).
But this is no ordinary blog of positions, arguments and debate. Alpert is what so many bloggers and blog advocates often talk about--an online reporter. He goes to the meetings--four evenings a week most weeks, sometimes more. He tells you what's happening before he argues his own take on the issue. And he digs around, finding the documents, doing the interviews, and presenting it all to readers so they have enough material to make up their own minds.
This kind of gumshoe reporting is a rarity in the blogosphere, not because professional journalists have any monopoly on skills, but because most bloggers also have to make a living, and do their blogs in their spare hours. Alpert has made Greater Greater Washington the centerpiece of his work life, a luxury he can afford having been at Google for five-plus years during its big boom.
"Getting information to people has an effect on the way they see things," he says. "Definitely there's an advocacy component to what I do--I want to persuade people to see things as I do, but I'm also advocating that people get involved and go to meetings to see for themselves."
The blog is drawing about 700 to 1,000 readers a day, and it's getting attention from the elected officials, government workers and media who work on development and planning issues.
Alpert's inspiration for the blog is the New York-oriented Streetsblog, which is looking to expand to other cities, much as the string of city blogs that includes DCist has done. Alpert is even talking about converting his blog to make it a Washington outlet of a Streetsblog network.
Alpert says he's here to stay--he's buying the house, getting married, settling in. This, he says, is the city that comes closest to his ideal--a human scale, manageable neighborhoods, lively streetscape. Well, lively in spots. "There's a universal human impulse to not want things to change," he says, talking about the "anti-everything people" who seem to cluster around anyone who tries to create more density and vitality in the city and its suburbs. "I know they are a small minority, but their presence just inspires me to get other people involved."
If you go to a planning meeting in just about any neighborhood around town, you're likely to run into Alpert. He's the reporter busily taking notes for a non-profit blog on which he spends nearly full time. That's not a model that can be widely replicated, but it makes for valuable reading.
By Marc Fisher |
May 28, 2008; 7:51 AM ET
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