He started a virtual movement

Published Sep. 29, 2006

On March 28, 2005, a king of sorts emerged in Seminole Heights. His throne: a LazyBoy chair. His name: David Scott Banghart. His scepter: a neighborhood blog.

And rule, he did.

On his downtime from his job as a social worker, Banghart blogged about an illegal boardinghouse harboring sex offenders, and his online readers rallied against it. He hammered about code enforcement, and the city created the Seminole Heights task force. He discovered that Scientologists moved into the neighborhood, and local newspapers followed the story.

Seminole Heights was the first of Tampa's 104 neighborhoods to have a full-scale blog for communicating information and, in many cases, sparking action. Port Tampa and West Tampa have started their own, and others will likely follow as more people turn to the Internet for their everyday needs.

"I think the electronic media is a boon to neighborhood activism and organizing," Banghart said.

Two weeks ago - when his blog was averaging 30,000 hits per month - Banghart announced that he was moving to Lutz.

"It's a huge loss. I've been so despondent about it," said neighbor Sherry Taylor King, owner of Sherry's YesterDaze Vintage Clothing & Antiques on N Florida Avenue. "How could Scott leave us?"

Banghart and his wife, Susan, want to live closer to old friends in Lutz, he said. He created a new blog, Word From Lutz, and plans to turn the Seminole Heights blog over to residents, checking in from afar.

"This will be an evolution from an individual-driven blog to a community-driven blog,'' he said of the Seminole Heights blog. "I think it's going to evolve to a larger community perspective, and it's great."

Banghart, 48, already has helped the community define its perspective. Before his blog, residents of Old Seminole Heights, South Seminole Heights and Southeast Seminole Heights communicated through e-mail and phone chains mostly within their neighborhoods. Now, attendance is higher at events because everyone in the area sees the same fliers posted on the blog.

"You post it on the blog, you're going to get a turnout," said Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association president Randy Baron. "I think it's an excellent place for people to find out about things. It's a one-stop shop."

And readers aren't just residents. The media and city officials regularly check blogs for neighborhood news.

Shannon Edge, the city's director of neighborhood and community relations, is a regular blog visitor. It's a great gauge for what residents care about and alerts her to neighborhood issues, she said. She often verifies information posted anonymously on the blog with association presidents in order to pass it along to city officials.

"It's very helpful for us to keep a pulse on the community, and there is nothing more satisfying for us in the city than when we can address an issue we were not aware of," Edge said. "So blogs are a good way we can tune in."

In August, Sophia Nakis launched a blog called West Side Stories after moving to West Tampa from Seminole Heights, where she lived for six years.

Port Tampa blogger Toni Wilcox has high praise for Banghart's creation. "Everybody in the Tampa blogging world looks toward the Seminole Heights blog as a beacon," she said.

Wilcox launched her blog after moving to Port Tampa from Washington, D.C., early this year when her husband was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. She had accumulated a lot of information about the neighborhood through house hunting and wanted a place to share it.

Wilcox said she tries to focus on positive neighborhood news and verifies all of her facts before posting them. She is working with Port Tampa Civic Association president Jill Buford to make her blog the official neighborhood newsletter.

"I can't tell you how important it is to reach as many people as possible," Buford said. "If I can't get you to a meeting, at least you'll know what's going on in the neighborhood."

Does the advent of blogs mean the demise of association meetings? Not necessarily, said Sherry Genovar-Simons, president of the Southeast Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association.

Attendance at her meetings has increased in the past year and a half. And now, neighbors who can't make it to meetings comment about issues on the blog.

"It's easier to reach more people with less effort," she said. "Most people can go on the Internet when they can't make a phone call."

But blogging isn't as easy as typing words into a computer, Banghart said. As he started his Seminole Heights blog, he introduced himself to local business owners and distributed fliers publicizing his blog. He also had to find sources he could trust and make ethical decisions about what to allow on his blog.

In other words, blogging is a big responsibility, he said.

"My blog acts like a lens that focuses the community's actions and issues," said Banghart, who plans to use his blog to help sell his house.

Banghart knows that people will miss him and that his blog will change when he moves away, but he isn't too worried.

"People have an investment in this blog because it's their community. It's their neighborhood," he said. "And because they're invested, it's been so successful."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 226-3354 or