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Friday, May 8,2009

The connection

by Liz Reyna
Say you’re walking down Michigan Avenue and you spot a giant pothole ready to swallow an unsuspecting car. What do you do? Map it.

Continuing along, you hear a local business owner telling his customers the story of how he got his start. What do you do? Share it.

A gathering at the Capitol reveals a group of people pushing an initiative for more way finding signs. You can help vote on it.

It is hard to imagine doing such things just walking down Michigan Avenue, but with the Web site www.ourmichiganave.org, an interactive urban development communication network for Lansing residents created by a group of Michigan State University students, such a task is possible.

At a meeting Wednesday, professor John Monberg and five of his students unveiled the new site to a group of students, professors and local business owners.

Led by Monberg, Our Michigan Avenue was created by a group of students in his Ethnography and Interaction Design class.

The Web site was created in an effort to learn about ideas to improve Michigan Avenue and highlight businesses along the corridor.

As an interactive site, community members can vote, voice their opinions and add their own ideas on events and places along the stretch, which connects Lansing and East Lansing.

“The big problem is that there is a disconnect between Lansing and East Lansing,” Monberg said. “Twenty years ago, Lansing and East Lansing could thrive independently. As we move from an industrial to an information economy, our region will need to make decisions to respond to the challenges of globalization.”

The site, he said, will encourage community participation.

Together, the MSU students embarked on learning a new programming framework, Ruby on Rails, generating stories, posting Google maps and images and making the Web site ergonomic.

Monberg said he hopes the site can be used in the future to catch the attention of urban and city planners.

“The great thing about it is that anyone can get to it,” he said. “There is a whole level of sophistication where anyone can add you own ideas, text, images, maps and locations.”

Although Our Michigan Avenue was a class project over the last semester, Monberg and students plan to volunteer their own time to maintain it.

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