A Common Place for the City

By STEVEN VALLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

January 5, 2011

What do you get when you combine the Internet, social media, and a motivated 2008 George Mason High School graduate?  www.fallschurch.ourcommonplace.com — that’s what!

You may have noticed the flyers around town promoting this new online gathering place; some of you have even contacted the Falls Church Times to let us know about.  We recently sat down with Falls Church City resident Peter Davis at Panera so he could give us a guided tour of the site.  Davis and some of his fellow students at Harvard conceived the idea and developed the software for it in their spare time — ahh, youth.

“For the past two years, some people at college and I have been building CommonPlace, a web and community organizing start-up.  We build these web platforms for local communities — central locations (“CommonPlaces”) online that are designed to help neighbors connect and share with the people and organizations around them. On CommonPlace:

  • People can post needs, announcements, invitations, and offers to their neighbors: ‘Can I borrow a ladder?’ ‘Lost my cat…anyone seen him?’ ‘Selling Nats tickets,’ etc.
  • Local civic organizations, municipal institutions and businesses can post announcements to people in town: ‘VPIS meeting today;’ ‘New Falls Church Times article;’ ‘Trash Pick up rules for January,’ etc.
  • Everyone can post and view upcoming community events

The goal is to build a robust community information infrastructure for each city, helping make neighborhoods and local communities in America even better places to live in — more civic and more connected.  You can find out more information at our main corporate info site, www.CommonPlaceUSA.com,” Peter told us.

Peter and his partners have been creating CommonPlaces in neighborhoods around Massachusetts this past year, and now CommonPlace is coming to Falls Church this January.  “Falls Church seems like the perfect city to try out a community information network in– it’s one of the most civic towns in America, it has high levels of internet access, and is known for trying new things out (in fact, my experience growing up in such a civic town as Falls Church is what inspired me to build CommonPlace)” Peter stated.  As we talked he laid out commonplaces history of development and what he hopes to gain by offering this software to Falls Church City.

Peter explained how he and a friend as well as three developers, as well as the help of faculty advisor came up with the concept of commonplaces and then brought it life.  Coded in a program called “Ruby on Rails” and using screen scraping and public RSS feeds the software as a service (SaS) will centralize information, bulletin boards, list-serv’s, and public announcements in a convenient easy to use site that will broadcast relevant content to the residents that subscribe to it.  Peter and his group broke down the City into eleven small neighborhoods that will allow the site to more easily categorize and properly place the posts and events that will affect those residents.

Peter explained that “there are two strands to CommonPlace’s January ‘implementation process’ in Falls Church.  The first is to get as many residents of the City signed on with the platform (and thus receiving neighborhood posts, community event information, and announcements from community organizations).  The second is to get as many ‘civic content providers’ to start ‘Community Feeds’ on the platform– have major organizations, businesses and institutions posting their announcements and events to the platform.”

To sign-up simply go to: http://fallschurch.ourcommonplace.com/ fill in your full name, email address, and street address (that last part is so that the site can place you in the correct jurisdiction of the City) and start posting.  The Falls Church Times will be featured in the City’s version of CommonPlaces and we’re looking forward to seeing how this develops.  Good luck Peter, we’re happy to see one of our own starting a new venture like this.

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January 6, 2011 

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13 Responses to “A Common Place for the City”

  1. PG on January 6th, 2011 1:05 am

    A similar effort, called Backfence, was started five or six years ago in Reston, McLean and other towns–and was also based in Falls Church. Unfortunately, it was ahead of its time, and failed. AOL is doing something similar with Patch, and there are others. Good luck to the commonplace kids!

  2. vlfrance, City of Falls Church on January 6th, 2011 6:35 am

    Is the website meant for the City? Perhaps it should say Falls Church City, instead of just Falls Church. It’s a great idea and I hope it works.

  3. SB on January 6th, 2011 9:23 am

    I’m interested to check it out. I recently moved to FCC from Arlington. Any neighborhood I lived in Arlington had listservs or google groups, etc for the community/civic association, where we could send emails looking for dog sitters, roofing recommendations, alerts about theft, etc. I haven’t found anything like that yet in Falls Church (although let me know if there is one!). I’ll definitely sign up for this and hope it takes hold, I’d love a way to feel more connected to my new community.

  4. Donna Englander, Falls Church, VA on January 6th, 2011 10:35 am

    At the Falls Church Education Foundation, we’re always interested in new ways to get the message out about our activities–kudos to the organizers of this new site in recognizing the importance of sharing information in our community–thanks to them and many others who help us spread the word about our work and the work of many other worthwhile organizations!

  5. C. Kenny, FC on January 6th, 2011 10:37 am

    The Neighbors Network based in Great Falls (www.myneighborsnetwork.com) has been doing this very thing for several Northern VA communities during the last 5+ years and it is a wonderful resource. Unfortunately, though, it does not focus on Falls Church City. And while the FC Broadmont neighborhood listserv does meet some of Peter’s objectives–recommendations, neighborhood alerts, etc. — it lacks the component of having community activities regularly posted. Therefore, while Peter’s idea is not a new one, it is a good one, and I look forward to joining his group. Good luck, Mr. Davis!

  6. Lou Mauro on January 6th, 2011 4:45 pm

    I heartily recommend and endorse the CommonPlace efforts of Peter Davis and his fellow organizers. Peter is one of the best and brightest ever to attend Falls Church City schools and his creativity, innovation and hard work will be of no surprise to anyone that knows him. Well-conceived, organized and operated civic and community groups can fill the gaps left by corporations, governments and the media as they increasingly lose touch with the real needs and desires of ordinary citizens through their obsessive focus on self-interest and politics.

  7. Hannah Jordan on January 6th, 2011 8:08 pm

    This will be another great communication tool for our community. Thanks, Peter! My one question is when someone posts something for the community, does it only go out to the defined neighborhood? For example, I just posted an announcement for the upcoming Falls Church Winter Homeless Shelter auction and FUNdraiser that will take place on Feb. 12. Will only the people in my neighborhood see that announcement or is there a way to make some events viewed by all?

  8. Peter Davis, Falls Church on January 7th, 2011 7:49 pm

    Hi everyone,

    Thank you for your interest in Falls Church CommonPlace! If we can all keep up the good work spreading the word, signing up neighbors with CP, recruiting civic leaders to post important information through CP, and utilizing CP to connect and share with our neighbors… then Falls Church’s CommonPlace is well on its way to becoming a useful community tool for you, your neighborhood and the Falls Church community as a whole.

    I am happy to answer any questions and receive any concerns, ideas and feedback about the community platform– so please email me any time at Pete@CommonPlaceUSA.com.

    As for the above comments, here’s some answers:

    Re vlfrance: The website is meant for the Falls Church community. However, If you live outside the borders of 22046 in Greater Falls Church, you *can* still sign up with the site and receive announcements and events from city organizations. However, you won’t be sorted into a neighborhood (and thus able to post and receive neighborhood posts) in Falls Church…rather you will be placed in a ‘neighborhood’ with other people from Greater Falls Church. However, what neighborhood you are placed in for neighborhood posts does not affect the community announcements and community events you see and get emailed about from the site…so, if you live in Greater Falls Church and are interested in seeing information about events and announcements from Falls Church groups, I encourage you to sign up.

    Re SB: You said, “Any neighborhood I lived in Arlington had listservs or google groups, etc for the community/civic association, where we could send emails looking for dog sitters, roofing recommendations, alerts about theft, etc. I haven’t found anything like that yet in Falls Church.” Falls Church’s CommonPlace can be exactly that — you can use CommonPlace to post messages to your neighbors about dog sitters, roofing recommendations, theft alerts, and so much more (ladder requests, babysitting announcements, block party planning..the list goes on and on). However, Falls Church CommonPlace will not be a useful tool for Falls Church’s neighborhoods until we have more people signed up. Please spread the word, so FC’s CP can be a useful tool the Falls Church’s neighborhoods and community as a whole.

    Re Hannah Jordan: My apologies — we have failed to be clear in the site design about the difference between posting to your neighborhood and posting to the whole community. There is a redesign coming to the site later this week that will make the distinction 10 times clearer, with distinct buttons and boxes to “Post to Your Neighborhood” “Post an Event to the Whole Community” “Post an Announcement to the Whole Community.” Please be on the look out for that next week. For now, we will make sure to move your posting over to the events board, so that everyone can see it. Again, my apologies.

    Thanks to everyone for supporting Falls Church’s newest community building effort. Again, please email me anytime at Pete@CommonPlaceUSA.com with any questions, thoughts, ideas, or concerns with the platform.

    I hope you can help us build this new community tool by: inviting your neighbors and friends in Falls Church to join; posting and replying to your neighbors’ posts through the site; and encouraging community groups you know to contact us to get onto the site. It will take an effort upfront to get used to the tool and to get the network of neighbors up and running, but I guarantee — once we begin fully utilizing Falls Church’s CommonPlace — it will be an incredibly powerful tool for community building in Falls Church.

    Thanks for being great neighbors,
    Pete Davis

  9. Gordon Theisz, City of Falls Church on January 8th, 2011 9:34 am

    Hey Peter, don’t forget our exiled non-22046 Falls Church City friends in the 22042 zip code (along Hillwood Ave and Berry St.).

  10. Peter Davis, Falls Church on January 8th, 2011 11:43 am

    Hi Gordon,

    Thanks so much for reminding us of the FCC 22042ers — we’ll make sure that they get sorted into the right neighborhood inside the city.

    Thanks again for participating in CommonPlace,

    Peter

  11. moira eisele, Falls Church on January 9th, 2011 10:35 am

    How do I sign up?

  12. Peter Davis, Falls Church on January 11th, 2011 11:50 am

    Hi Moira,

    Just go to: http://www.FallsChurch.OurCommonPlace.com and fill out your name, email and street address (to confirm you live in Falls Church) and you’ll be signed up to receive announcements from your neighbors and civic organizations.

    Thanks,

    Peter

  13. W Hardy on June 30th, 2014 2:15 pm

    Has Falls Church commonplace now gone away? The page never loads anymore.
    So now that this has gone? Time to start another?
    How about a yahoo listserv, easy to use – maintain, probably won’t go away in a few years. The Glover Park neighborhood had one that was popular and had great info.

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