Lansing aims to connect the community online

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By Kate Mudgett
Lansing Star staff writer

According to historic transcripts, President Barack Obama was the first president to use the word “Facebook” in a State of the Union address to Congress.

Linking Lansing and U, an initiative created by Mayor Virg Bernero in 2007, has become a popular resource for the Lansing community.

“We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It’s how we make a living,” said Obama in his annual address to Congress on Feb.1.

With a Facebook page that currently has a friend count of more than 18 million, Obama knows about the power of social media. But can this phenomenon translate into local politics?

In 2007, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero created the “Linking Lansing & U” initiative aimed at connecting the City of Lansing to students and emerging professionals in the Lansing area.  This was one of the mayor’s early efforts, which he has continued to remain committed to fulfilling.

In his Jan. 24, 2011, State of the City address, Bernero renewed his sentiments of pride in Lansing’s efforts to create a “better Lansing.”

“Our efforts to transform Lansing into one of the great Midwestern capital cities continues to draw national accolades. In 2010, we joined places like Chicago and Houston on Kiplinger’s list of the Top Ten American Cities for Young Professionals,” said Bernero, in his sixth State of the City address.

With three higher education institutions within a 3-mile radius of the capitol, the youth demographic is a large part of Lansing’s growing population.  According to data in the American Community Survey, a branch of the U.S. Census Bureau, 28% of Lansing’s population is between the ages of 20 and 34.

“I like being connected to my local politicians, I think it is a great way to keep them connected to the community,” said Kath Landly, 26, a Lansing resident and law student at Cooley Law School.  “I am glad to see that people are realizing that social media, like Facebook, is the best way to get young people involved.”

And motivating involvement was the initiative’s original goal.  The initiative, which has been overseen by the Lansing Economic Development Corp., quickly became the most popular Web resource provided by the Lansing government, and has continued to keep steady numbers.  Its Twitter account currently has over 900 followers and its Facebook has 272 “likes.”

Currently, the “Linking Lansing and U” pages advertise events happening in the community, but soon it will begin its second phase.

In a press statement, the team behind the operations of the website said, “We are hoping to create a page that draws people in.  The next phase will focus more on engaging the community in a dialog about how to make Lansing better.”

Watch MBernero’s 2011 State of the City address here.

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