Downtown Eugene

Thursday, April 17, 2008

User-generated downtown

When we launched our non-profit public dance-hall, The Tango Center, one of our main incentives, was to provide places downtown where people could actually do something.

There's nothing wrong with going downtown to shop or drink, or take in a show or a movie -- but we wanted to see if we could successfully create a self-sustaining activity, by providing people an opportunity to learn from each other, and be creative with each other. Social dance, and Argentine Tango, seemed to fit the bill. But you could do it with almost anything.

There's another way to look at what we did. On the world wide web, the mantra for the last 10 years, or so, has been to encourage users to provide a website's content. "User-generated content" is populist, appropriately providing what the people want, because they actually did it themselves.

In the same way, a dance-hall provides people with the opportunity to create the evening they want. And each evening is, indeed, wonderful and different. There's a structure, but most great events need some structure: people can more easily express themselves in relation to something. Partner dances provide structure quite well.

So, an evening of dance is a "user-generated" event. At these events, everyione agrees, the most exciting stuff is on the dance floor, not on a stage or screen.

Maybe user-generated activity is the formula for a successful downtown. If organizers and entrepreneurs fill an area with opportunities for people to learn and be creative, then these activities will fill with people's energy, and get people out of the house, so they can test themselves, fulfill their own potential, and find their own meaning.

Citizens for Public Accountability has launched a series of meetings, called Downtown Together, intended to encourage new projects downtown. In order to try to bridge the gap bewteen a user-generated physical space, and a user-generated web space, the meetings are using software known as Urbanology, which is in the early stages of an attempt to create a networking and project community self-management tool, online.