This letter is in regards to the article entitled “Building Cities in the Virtual World”, which appeared in the April 2008 issue of Planning. While the topic is certainly meaningful in today’s Web 2.0 society, the roots of online planning collaboration and networking were conspicuously absent. We, the professional planners that serve volunteer administrators and moderators of Cyburbia.org, were deeply disappointed that the planning community of Cyburbia did not merit a mention in the article. While the owner of Cyburbia, Dan Tasman, AICP, is listed as a signer, this letter was initiated without his knowledge.
Cyburbia, established in 1994as the Planning and Architecture Internet Resource Center at the University of Buffalo by then graduate student Dan Tasman, AICP, is the Internet's oldest portal and social networking site for urban planners and others interested in cities and the built environment. Cyburbia has evolved through the collaborative effort of several professional planners from a basic list of planning and architecture links to a dynamic internet resource, bringing together a wide variety of resources unmatched on any other planning related website. Cyburbia includes a very active message board (almost 400,000 messages to date), an image hosting gallery, syndicated feeds of hundreds of planning-related weblogs, and a selective directory of Internet resources relevant to planning and urbanism. It is not just another Internet Bulletin Board; as of the date of this letter, when you type “urban planning” into Google, the fourth hit is Cyburbia, just after a Wikipedia article, the APA website, and UCLA School of Public Affairs. Neglecting to mention Cyburbia is similar to writing an article on transit-oriented development and failing to mention Peter Calthorpe, akin to writing an article on congestion pricing and failing to discuss London or writing about New Urbanism and ignoring the contributions of Andres Duany.
Cyburbia differentiates itself from other planning sites by its participant-driven discussion culture, in contrast to blog response systems. This characteristic allows planners to build professional and personal relationships without the limits of geography. Through Cyburbia, planners are no longer forced to restrict their peer relationships to their immediate region; a planner in Wyoming can ask a question and receive responses from Florida, Kansas, Vermont, Texas, and even Great Britain and New Zealand, among other locales. As a result, Cyburbia allows ideas to flow more freely between planners and furthers the profession not unlike a 365 planning conference. Several Cyburbians have hired one another, whether as subconsultants for a project, client-consultant relationships, or as coworkers at an employer. A special peer review section of the website is under development, which will allow planners to share projects and documents in order to gain feedback. Perhaps Cyburbia’s most unique attribute is the personal relationships built between planners. Many members periodically get together on a regional basis and at conferences for face-to-face interaction. The social fabric of Cyburbia has even resulted in two marriages between Cyburbians.
Despite this, the authors of the article neglected to mention Cyburbia while dedicating six paragraphs to Facebook and MySpace, where planning is little more than a small interest group among many others. The author also managed to find space to plug the website he founded, which Cyburbia assisted with some elements of its start-up. While these sites may be useful for cities in public outreach, they lack the professional and personal interaction between fellow planners that so many crave. Particularly distressing was the emphasis on blogs, which lack a strong peer-to-peer connection and ability to drive discussion. In contrast, it is not unusual for a professional topic on Cyburbia to garner 100 responses.
We hope that Planning will consider a small follow-up article in the May issue and a modification to the online April edition to include a link to Cyburbia.org. We believe that if the editorial team from Planning will visit Cyburbia, they will see for themselves the great resources available to planners world-wide.
The Administrators and Moderators of Cyburbia