In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to Wittenberg’s church door. But nowadays, the best way to garner attention in a big city would probably be through the Internet. That’s why, in September, developer-designers Mikael Staer and Philip Battin launched Dear City 3.0, a sleek, crowd-sourced site built to host digital sticky notes on civic issues from city citizens all over the world.
In just seven weeks, the number of cities on the site catapulted to 350. Some initially dismissed the Dear City project as a new way to air NIMBY complaints or spout hateful nonsense about neighbors, but many of the discussions show that people are actually making constructive suggestions. Dear City has also attracted a strange, somewhat universal fascination with bike lanes.
Staer says he was wowed by the bike lane phenomenon: “This is by far the most popular topic in any city in the world. Everywhere you click in, that’s probably the first thing people are talking about,” he says. He had been a bit bewildered at first–expecting people to post about micro-political corruption scandals, education, or crime before something as mundane as bike lanes. “It’s really interesting that this is a worldwide concern. Yeah, bike lanes. It’s really funny. But I guess that’s what a lot of people want.”
The enthusiasm for bike lanes could owe something to the project’s origins. The new platform, which is still in beta, had grown out of something the Staer and Battin had developed for bike-friendly Copenhagen in 2009. Once “Dear Copenhagen” became so popular that users started asking for other cities, the pair exploded the old way of doing things, as it was becoming too cumbersome to keep adding domains for Dear London, Dear Berlin, and the rest. Instead, Staer and Battin built a tool that let users type in their city, wherever it was, and put up posts uncensored.
Of course, not all popular posts deal with bikes. The highest rated post for Toronto, where Staer lives, for example, is “Can we please do something about Rob Ford?” The next highest rated post, though, asks for more bike lanes.
A similar pattern often holds true for big cities like Los Angeles down to small towns like Tom’s River, New Jersey.
The beta site’s demographics could also owe something to the bike-enthusiastic skew. Their Google Analytics page shows them the most popular age group of visitors is 25 to 34. And because Staer and Battin initially attracted their designer friends to the site, it’s likely clicking shared through those social networks brought in more tech-hobbyists and bike-friendly urbanites.
We’ve reported on millennial enthusiasm for biking before, so that comes as no surprise. What’s more surprising is how relatively civil (and consistent) the discourse has been for an uncensored site. Whether the bike pattern continues once they roll out mobile and iPad versions of Dear City in the next couple of weeks remains to be seen.
“It’s totally anonymous. People are really respecting it,” Staer said. “Nobody writes ‘big boob’ comments. We don’t have a filter, and you can write whatever you want, but we don’t have any sort of spam issue.”
Staer, though, is ignoring the Austrian town of Fucking, which is also gathering some less-than-civic-oriented discussion on Dear City. Otherwise, bikes!