Since its inception in early April, the Virtual Community Association (VCA) has slowly and constantly been adding members. This unique experiment on the National Capital FreeNet virtual space continues to offer interesting and informative discussions on community topics.
As reported in the previous issue of the Summit (New Community Association Formed, May/June 1996, page 13), the VCA has no formal membership, no executive, no meetings and no dues. It has, however, of late been attracting the attention of some of the local politicians, including City Councillor Karin Howard, and the local media.
In July, two of the VCA's founders, Michael Lynch and David Darwin, and Howard came together on CBO Radio's All In A Day. For Lynch and Darwin it was their first time to meet in person after several months of "conversing" in cyberspace. The two, with a few others, had been roaming the City of Ottawa and Regional discussion areas for quite some time.
During the radio show, Howard expressed her excitement at having this unique vehicle for sounding out the views and opinions of people within her ward and other wards. It was a very quick way to put out information and solicit feedback - no need to call a meeting, book a room and hope someone shows up.
Currently, more than forty people have been frequenting the community associations discussion group where the VCA presently makes its home. There is talk of applying to the FreeNet administrators for a separate area.
Matters discussed are of all types. Some people have been making a case for organizing the VCA for the upcoming municipal elections. The idea is to put together issues and questions to be presented, online, to current politicians and their challengers. Of course, in order to participate, they would have to be involved in FreeNet. And that is just the point of the exercise, to get the politicians and other officials involved in the virtual discussions.
Presently, there is a lot of frustration being expressed because so few officials and their political masters are tuning in. They answer their phone and meet their constituents in person, but very few are answering e-mail messages and public postings in the discussion groups. There are exceptions, like Alex Cullen and Diane Deans, and more recently Karin Howard.
Other matters being discussed include the exploitation and protection of unused land (including infill building), traffic calming proposals, the many aspects of planning and zoning, links to other community organizations, and so on. The issues and discussions have been so voluminous, it is, at times, hard to keep up unless you drop in at least every couple of days.
To join in the VCA discussions, log on to FreeNet (520-1130 or 520-1135) using your computer and modem or one of the public terminals in the library branches. At the Your choice---> prompt, type go community. Number 2 on the menu will take you into the VCA discussion group. Pick a topic that interests you and start reading. If you have something to say, contribute! Everyone is welcome to offer their viewpoint.