Five Questions With: Jef Nickerson

Freelance graphic designer and Internet consultant talks about his blog, Greater City: Providence and the Netroots Nation conference. More

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Five Questions With: Jef Nickerson

COURTESY HEIDI GUMULA
"EVERYTHING IN Rhode Island is local and though various blogs have niches that they focus on, we’re always reading each other and expanding on what others are writing
Posted 1/18/12

Jef Nickerson is a Providence-based freelance graphic designer and Internet consultant. He is also the driving force behind the blog Greater City: Providence which aims to “promote the growth and development of the Greater Providence region in as urban a pattern as possible.”

Nickerson attended The Providence Blogosphere Post-Holidays Party on Jan. 11, along with about 150 “bloggers, mainstream media types, politicians, and people who generally enjoy consuming information about Providence, and being involved in the city, and like cocktails.”

PBN: How did you get involved with Greater City: Providence and what’s your vision for the future? Is the site a profitable venture?

NICKERSON: Greater City: Providence was born out of an urban webforum that had a national audience which had a surprisingly strong Providence contingent, during Providence’s mini-building boom around 2004 to 2005.

A small group of us decided to start a Providence specific group to discuss urban issues, specifically focused around the Providence Planning Department’s neighborhood planning charrettes (Providence Tomorrow).

We wanted to make “urban” stop being seen as a dirty word or a bad thing and to ensure that the city continues to develop as a city and not be suburbanized. That process and advocacy evolved into Greater City: Providence and we expanded our focus to general urban issues such as buildings/demolitions, open space and parks, transportation, politics and the economy, and pretty much anything that has an impact on the urban environment.

The site is currently not profitable (I call it a “no-profit”) but it does barely manage to cover its own costs, a bit more effort on the revenue front would yield a bit more profitability but making sure the issues are on the forefront of both the site and the collective urban consciousness is our No. 1 priority.

PBN: When did the bloggers holiday party begin and what comes out of it every year?

NICKERSON: This was the blog party’s fourth year. The party provides an opportunity for all us bloggers, some of whom only know each other online, to put faces to names, and for our readers to come out and meet us and each other. It is an opportunity to network, make new connections, renew old connections, and share information and ideas.

PBN: What role/impact do bloggers have in Providence?

NICKERSON: Most of us are opinion-based, meaning we no doubt have an agenda behind our writing, be it a simple love for the region such as the photos posted on I {Heart} Rhody, a political agenda such as Rhode Island’s Future on the left or Anchor Rising on the right, or a definite view on development issues such as Greater City: Providence has. So we take from the news of the day be it locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally, and put an opinion on it that the mainstream outlets don’t. It is up to our readers to agree, disagree, or otherwise build upon what we put out there.

Most of us devour other blogs and general news outside of Providence as well, so we’re constantly looking to what is happening elsewhere, best practices, things to avoid, and figuring out how those things apply to Providence and how Providence could benefit from what others are doing around the country. For example, I’ve been following Chicago blogs because Mayor Emanuel recently grabbed Gabe Klein from Washington, D.C., as his transportation commissioner. Klein introduced the wildly successful bike share program and started the streetcar project in that city and has been doing amazing work for Mayor Emanuel since he moved to Chicago.

I and other bloggers feed information into the Providence consciousness and try to get people thinking about new things or about things in a new way.

PBN: How does the Providence blog scene compare to other small cities?

NICKERSON: I think we’re unique in that unlike some other cities our size, we’re the largest city in a small state. Everything in Rhode Island is local and though various blogs have niches that they focus on, we’re always reading each other and expanding on what others are writing. Blogs always take time to find an audience, in Providence though, if you have something to say that people think others should hear, other bloggers and blog readers will help push your message out there. And being so small, and it being really easy to meet people and cross pollinate ideas means that we can actually turn ideas into action on a hyper local, and statewide scale.

PBN: I understand that representatives of Netroots Nation – the conference of liberal bloggers and activists scheduled to descend on Providence June 7-10 – were in attendance. Were they there to discuss the upcoming event?

NICKERSON: Organizers from Netroots Nation have been visiting Providence for several months to lay the groundwork for their upcoming conference. Small groups of people have been meeting with them and getting them familiarized with Providence. They’re really now ramping up their outreach and trying to get more locals involved in the conference. There’s a locals rate for attending and they also hope to get Rhode Islanders to host panels and workshops. They are looking forward to having the conference here, calling the city, “insanely friendly and ridiculously charming.”

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