The Electronic Frontier Foundation And Municipal Arts Society In The Same Room?

Monday night in New York, there was a joint reception and remarks from @EFF and @MASNYC.  What would New York’s premier urban design organization and a digital rights advocacy group have in common?

It turns out there were several things in common, from the personalities involved to shared concepts.

First, the personal level.  Vin Cipolla, the President of the Municipal Arts Society, served on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in an earlier part of his career.  And, although EFF is based in San Francisco, Esther Dyson, a New Yorker, was one of its original board members twenty-years ago.  (Ms. Dyson is a multi-faceted eminence in the technology industry – analyst, investor, guru, … )  She too attended and spoke at this reception.

The second reason is that EFF has been very much a part of the Silicon Valley scene and focused there.  As the New York metro region has itself become a new and large center of Internet and technology activity, EFF decided it was natural to ramp up its presence in New York.  

The third reason is the MAS has increasingly recognized the ways that technology interacts with and affects urban life and urban design.  For example, as I’ve noted in a previous post, the MAS Summit last year featured Betaville, online software that enables citizens to collaborate in urban design.

The fourth reason has to do with what is a shared philosophy, albeit historically in different domains of life.  EFF has championed the rights of individuals in cyberspace over those heavy-handed institutions that would restrict their freedoms; perhaps stating this more positively, EFF wants an Internet that empowers the individuals who use it.  

Similarly, MAS has championed the rights of residents to define and make livable their urban environment.  Building on the intellectual tradition of Jane Jacobs, MAS wants urban areas that empower the individuals who live there.

As the virtual and physical world of cities become ever more blended, it will not be so unusual that two organizations – like MAS and EFF – will work together.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis


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