(Photo courtesy of Adam Tope)
Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are a resilient D.C. institution: they have stuck as its most local branch of government since the 1970s. Now, they remain rather impervious to the Internet age.
A new generation of commissioners is now seeking to open up ANC meetings with various technologies.
Adam Tope, a commissioner for 3F, ran for a contested seat on a promise of transparency in 2010. Once elected, he immediately set up a Twitter account, a Facebook page and an independent website updated with the meeting agendas.
“It’s not the prettiest thing in the world,” said Tope, 34, a former web entrepreneur and now a lawyer at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. “But it seems to work.”
He even went where perhaps no ANC had ever gone before: streaming the meetings — live.
The measure allowed the ANC to double its average audience (in-person and online) to about two-dozen residents for each meeting, Tope said.
The goal was to reach across his constituency, from “elderly people that just don’t have the ability to come to a meeting” to young families who “just can’t get to a meeting at 7 o’clock at night.”
These measures might seem quaint today, but ANCs are notoriously inaccessible and decentralized institutions. This prompted some flummoxed Code for DC hackers to create an ANC finder for residents seeking their local branch. “No one really knows what’s going on in a lot of these ANCs,” said Tope.
Tope’s commission is among the most well-funded in the district, “which allows us to experiment,” he said. The streaming service, hosted on Livestream, costs about $1,500 a year to run.
But some ANCs are purposefully dragging their feet with the backing of longtime residents, said Tope. Some neighbors “question the motives of new residents,” wary of the growing number of bars and new constructions projects popping up on their street corner.
Still, in this clash of old and new D.C., Tope also found a unifying means of communication: the neighborhood Yahoo listservs. Through that channel, he said, he can reach about half of his residents with the meeting agendas.-30-
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