New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in Singapore on Wednesday accepting an award for urban sustainability. During the event, Mayor Bloomberg took the opportunity to discuss the role of social media in city and urban planning, contending that it can often be a hindrance to the overall process of planning projects that have a long-range focus. His comments speak to the immediacy of social media and the voice it essentially gives the masses. Bloomberg acknowledged the benefits, being that people can voice their thoughts, connect, and make their opinions heard. These benefits are the reasons that businesses, SEO companies, and political campaigns utilize social media platforms to immediately connect with members of their target audiences to further their reach, grow traffic, and drive more business or support.
However, on the other side, the very same aspects that enable the benefits also can pose a challenge when trying to perform specific civic duties. For a mayor, these duties are those that may be in the best interest of a city for its long-term sustainability, for example, but may not be received well by some due to its lack of short-term return. Individuals with these strong opinions can take to social media to voice their criticism and thus influence policy. The other side of the immediacy and closeness of contact is that the constant feedback and chatter can slow decisions and progress, especially in relation to longer-term investments. This point essentially calls into question the efficiency and benefit of drawn -out dialogue.
Stakeholder analysis is essential and voter opinion is important, but this issue brings up the question: at what point does too much participation (listening to each stakeholder group) cross the line into inefficiency? Such a question brings up the adage regarding participation in community development in that although participation of stakeholders is essential, it does not mean the inclusion of all possible stakeholders all the time (in this case by way of social media outcry). Thus, mayor Bloomberg contends that at some point, the elected officials have to be left to make the decisions they were elected to make, and that referendums on actions simply cannot occur on a daily basis.
Mayor Bloomberg's comments raise good points for debate regarding the role of social media in society, politics, and public discourse. In the end, it is a medium that unites people and offers a means of immediate sharing, which is why SEO companies and political campaigns have used the platforms with great success. However, in the view of Bloomberg, it appears social media has breed a culture of immediacy that has benefits, but in terms of public planning, society should not let that culture of immediacy blind them to the value in longer-term investments.