Enabling Communities in the Networked City: ICTs and Civic Participation Among Immigrants and Youth in Urban Canada
Social scientists and policymakers have been grappling for over a decade with an apparent decline in civic participation and community life in many western liberal democracies, particularly in the United States. Civic participation refers to individuals’ active engagement with and involvement in their communities, and is a key determinant of individual and community development and well-being (Putnam 2000). There has also been lively scholarly debate about the role played by new ICTs, the Internet in particular, in contributing to downward trends in civic participation. Optimists argue that the Internet has transformative potential vis a vis civic participation and the augmentation of democracy (Lévy 2001; Mitchell 1999; Poster 1995; Rheingold 2000). Others argue that new ICTs erode and diminish social capital, civic participation and community (Nie et al. 2002; Kraut et al, 1998). Putnam and Sunstein, for example, worry that the Internet’s tendency to foster the development of virtual “communities of interest” will lead to the balkanization of society (Putnam 2000; Sunstein 2001). A third approach views ICTs as supplementing existing social relationships and activities by facilitating coordination and communication, and extending those relationships and activities into cyberspace (Wellman and Hampton 1999).