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Blacksburg launches new civic website

Blacksburg launches new civic website

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BLACKSBURG — Curious about the affordable housing shortage in town?

Or interested in opportunities for growing your own food?

Blacksburg says “let’s talk.”

The town launched a website — www.letstalkblacksburg.org — which officials say will streamline and improve the public’s engagement on a variety of matters.

The website’s home page invites visitors to register and includes sections where they can obtain general information.

The affordable housing section, for example, provides a summary of the issue.

“The Town of Blacksburg has a housing shortage, particularly affordable housing. Housing prices and availability have become hot topics in Blacksburg and the town is taking a close look at a variety of affordable housing strategies that could help address this issue in the community,” according to an excerpt.

The website also includes sections on projects such as the much-debated redevelopment of the old Blacksburg Middle School site and ongoing efforts to expand natural recreational amenities on a portion of Brush Mountain.

An announcement this week stated that the town, through the site, “will listen, engage, provide timely project updates and report back to the community about how their feedback has contributed to decisions that are being made.”

Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith said the platform will be as interactive as possible.

“I want to maintain civic engagement … and a sense of agency for our residents,” she said. “It’s a new model for a new age. It is designed for busy families, busy people, some of whom work in more than one job.”

While it seems to facilitate interaction with the town amid the challenges of the pandemic, the conception of the site predates the global crisis, Hager-Smith said. Similar ideas, she said, have been frequently discussed at local government conferences and events.

“This is part of a wider trend,” she said.

Hager-Smith said the tool is important to Blacksburg “where there’s been a high level of civic engagement.”

“We have residents with high expectations of not only their staff, but their ability to effect change,” she said.

Hager-Smith said she hopes the platform can raise residents’ confidence in their ability to make a difference.

“Not just in town governance, but for residents to feel a sense of agency … that the things that matter to them can manifest,” she said.

Hager-Smith clarified that the new site doesn’t intend to replace the town’s existing means for informing the public on issues. That, she said, includes the town’s website, www.blacksburg.gov, which she described as encyclopedic and as still the place for learning about the town charter, the locality’s dense codes and “all the granular detail, specifics of town governance.”

But Hager-Smith emphasized the new site’s interactivity.

“It’s for somebody who wants to dive in, get something quickly and possibly weigh in,” she said.

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