SUN CITY CENTER — Doug Arnold is going to build a town hall in Sun City Center, a place where people can come and exchange ideas and interests like back in the good old days.
And he's not going to use bricks, mortar or any construction materials to erect this center.
He's going to use the Internet.
Arnold, a Sun City Center resident, announced plans for the Sun City Center Citizens Network last week. He's currently beta testing the site at suncitycentercitizensnetwork.ning.com with the hopes of creating a digital town hall that will help residents in the retirement communities connect on a better level.
"It's really where we need to be heading," said Arnold, a former marketing vice president. "There are a lot of communities that have attempted this, but my thought was that Sun City Center and Kings Point are almost the perfect hyperlocal opportunity for this type of project.
"I was looking around and looking at other communities and what they have done and came up with the idea to essentially have the content come from the participants. I can moderate it, I can promote as a cheerleader, but the reality is that it would be a lot like Facebook: the participants provide the content."
So why not just create a Facebook page? Arnold says his site will be different than Facebook because it won't be as cluttered. The citizens network will feature channels so people can zero in on their favorite topics, like cooking or the arts, and, if they choose, avoid the topics they don't favor, such as political discourse.
Arnold is driven by the potential to connect neighbors in a world that seems increasingly disconnected. According to Macleans magazine, more than 50 percent of Americans don't know their neighbors' names. He thinks the network can help bridge that divide, particularly with residents who are homebound but remain connected through the Internet.
"This is an opportunity to do things on a neighborhood level so we can feel good about being united again," Arnold said. "Whether you're a a Methodist or a Catholic, a Republican or a Democrat, left or right, you want to see your neighbor as prosperous and happy as you are because that only makes the neighborhood better."
In Arnold's vision, the site can help launch the search for a missing dog or rally members to a specific cause, such as neighbor needing meals or help with yard work because of a medical condition.
Part of Arnold's inspiration comes from former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who wrote about using social networks to better connect people to government in his new book Citizenville.
"There's an excitement out there, a hunger to try new things, to explore the limits of what all these new technologies can do," Newsom wrote in the book. "The energy to explore is there. So the question is how do we direct some of that energy toward civic life? How do we get people as excited about engaging with government as they are about Angry Birds?"
Arnold believes he has the answer with his Sun City Center Network. The startup costs are minimal and there's no profit goal with the initial launch. He looks to add 1,000 members over the next year and hopes that the site will become a legacy to the community.
Contact Ernest Hooper at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @hoop4you.