If anyone still doubts the power of social media to affect the real world in a very substantial way, the intersection of social networks and real estate development should put these lingering doubts to rest.
As always, stories with big dollar signs attached are more impressive, and this seems pretty big to me: according to The Wall Street Journal, a group of homeowners in the Long Island town of Huntington successfully used social networks to organize local opposition to a 490-unit, $100 million housing development proposed by AvalonBay Communities Inc. for a site not far from a Long Island Rail Road station -- aiming to create affordable homes within easy reach of public transportation. The local homeowners argued that the new development would attract low-income home buyers and overburden the town's public schools.
The WSJ quoted one organizer, Jennifer LaVertu, as saying: "We were a bunch of moms. I didn't even have to be home to do it. We could access Facebook by phone, dropping a message to everyone that we needed them at town hall that night for a protest. It helped us organize much more quickly." Other local neighborhood groups are mounting similar Facebook campaigns in other parts of the country, including residents of Wrigleyville, near the famed Chicago Cubs stadium in Chicago.
Unsurprisingly, the new trend is giving rise to a counter-trend, with commercial and residential real estate developers and their local supporters taking to Facebook and other social networks to present the case for new construction. According to Newsday, on November 16, 200 commercial real estate brokers, developers and investors recently held a conference at Hofstra University to discuss how to promote their projects using social media.
Part of this may simply be dispelling or correcting inaccurate information. The WSJ also quoted AvalonBay's regional vice-president Matt Whalen as saying: "The dangerous thing that we saw about social media in our case was that it really just allowed for a wide distribution of any kind of information that's not factually checked." In the case of the Huntington development, this included rumors that it was intended to attract low-income home-buyers.