MMA Innovation Award winner
Award presented on January 24, 2009

A blog introduced by the Dennis Planning Department last June has emerged as more than just a means of getting information out to the public. According to Planning Director Daniel Fortier, the blog is also giving planning officials a better sense of what issues matter most to people – and of what the department might be able to do better.

The blog is hosted for free by WordPress.com at http://dennismaplanningdept.wordpress.com. It often includes several new postings each week, organized under 17 categories, such as “Affordable Housing,” “Design Standards,” “Open Space Plan,” “Wind Power,” and “Zoning Questions and Discussion.”

There are two related blogs, devoted to economic development and efforts to revitalize the village of Dennisport, as well as an opinion-polling function. WordPress.com also provides three gigabytes of free storage space, so readers can download planning documents such as the 183-page draft of the Cape Cod Regional Policy Plan.

Readers are encouraged to comment on postings, even if their response is not favorable.

“If somebody writes something critical of the Planning Department, it’s going to be up there,” Fortier says, “just as much as if someone is praising the department.”

An incisive criticism of a particular zoning regulation could lead to a change in that regulation, Fortier adds.

In exploring the idea for the blog, Fortier says that he looked into integrating it with the town’s Web site. But doing so would have entailed a more cumbersome mechanism for posting articles and would have required the purchase of blogging software.

In addition to the recognition from the MMA, the Planning Department blog received a “social advocacy” award from the Massachusetts chapter of the American Planning Association. That award, Fortier says, reflected efforts to get as many people as possible involved in efforts to revitalize the village of Dennisport, which offers more affordable housing than other sections of town.

The blog also has drawn praise from planetizen.com, a Web site for planning officials.

In an article posted on the blog in September, Michael Dudley of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg said blogs like the one Fortier introduced exist “not only for its external audiences, but for one’s own internal thought processes.”

“The blog can be much more than just one’s own writing – it becomes a window to other information sources and opinions.”

For more information, contact Daniel Fortier at (508) 760-6122.