Nov. 27, 2002
CONTACT: Carol Anderson

Two EMU Professors Receive $241,000 Grant for Online
Community Communications Improvement Project

YPSILANTI – Ypsilanti residents will soon have the opportunity to test the theory that more public input produces better government.

Area residents, via the Internet, will be able to weigh in on important issues and projects, thanks to a federal grant given to Eastern Michigan University. EMU professors Norman Tyler and Yichun Xie, both of the geography and geology department, are using $241,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce to continue a community communications project called WebPolis Consortium. The project encourages greater community involvement in local government decision-making using the Internet.

“We are constantly challenged to find cost saving methods for making government more efficient, reliable and more accessible to our citizens,” said Ypsilanti Mayor Cheryl Farmer. “The WebPolis Consortium has the potential to do all of this. We are thrilled to learn that EMU faculty members have been awarded a grant that will allow them to work collaboratively with us, their host city, on this promising e-project.”

WebPolis will create interactive applications to enhance city government decision-making. Officials can share technologies, resources and information with other communities and citizens can become more informed about local issues.

“The interactivity of WebPolis is a big draw,” said Tyler. “Local officials can talk to one another and to residents. People get overwhelmed by computers, but when you enter the portal, it’s a simple interface. The only thing you need is a computer with an Internet browser. We don’t want to scare off residents from using it (WebPolis),” said Tyler.

According to Ypsilanti city planner, Nathan Voght, WebPolis will enable citizens to send comments and opinions to city officials as well as see the comments of other citizens and the replies from officials. He said it would be similar to an electronic bulletin board. Citizens also would be able to evaluate comments by checking a box indicating they found an opinion valuable. The site will be ready for public use by March 2003. The project is in its second year and due to be completed in 2005.

Voght said he is looking to get city government entirely online. According to a 2002 study by the Institute for Electronic Government at IBM, government agencies cut costs 70 percent by moving services online.

One of Ypsilanti’s demonstration sites for WebPolis will be the Riverwalk project. Residents will be asked about the location of a pedestrian crosswalk across Michigan Avenue.

An additional application for WebPolis could be a proposed parking lot in Ypsilanti. Residents would be able to log on to the site and find cost analysis of alternate schemes, GIS (geographic information systems) mapping of a parking lot with various layers of information such as streets and building locations, discussions between residents or a resident and an official, or a survey on the need for a parking lot, said Tyler. A decision to build a parking lot in Ypsilanti could be reviewed by residents of the consortium in member cities, thus learning from the experience of others, he said.

Additional possible uses for WebPolis are Web video social service programs for seniors and shut-ins, online recording of local history, online mentoring of school children by local volunteers and an online newsletter.

A user fee paid by the cities for their residents will fund WebPolis.

Partners in the consortium include Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Albion, the Washtenaw County Administrator’s Office, Forks Organization of Calhoun County, Albion Economic Development Corporation, Albion College and the Michigan Society of Planners.