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Civic involvement? In Miami Beach, there’s an app for that

A Miami Beach neighborhood association is riding the growing app wave.

With its technological know-how, the West Avenue Corridor Neighborhood Association is changing the way other neighborhood associations interact with their members. The group, known as WAvNA, has taken a step to unify the community and inform them on pressing neighborhood issues through an app.

The app, WAvNA Vote Local, released in late July, aims to update corridor residents with news and information regarding candidates seeking elected office in Miami Beach. The app aims to be unbiased and to provide residents with candidate biographies, upcoming meetings, and assistance with voter registration.

Currently, WAvNA distributes a weekly newsletter to an email subscription list of about 1,000. The app also boosts its reach with an online presence on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

WAvNA is one of about 45 neighborhood associations in Miami Beach and recently merged with Lincoln West Resident Association. WAvNA’s district covers Fifth Street to 17th Street and runs from Alton Road to the bay.

Available for free download on the WAvNA website, as well as on Google Play, the app is currently awaiting approval from Apple’s App Store. Although WAvNA Vote Local is still a work in progress, Christine Florez, president and co-founder of WAvNA, went ahead with its release in order to have WAvNA residents engage with it and provide feedback.

“The focus of the app was to organize, engage and inform,” Florez said. “To be part of the electorate and to participate in our democracy.”

Florez focused on finding a developer for the app that was inexpensive and user-friendly. Since she compiles most of the information WAvNA distributes, she wanted to be able to create the app without learning computer programming or hiring a third party.

Florez, who doesn’t have a background in graphic design or programming, used the service Conduit Mobile to create the app in one day. Florez pays the $39 monthly fee along with one-time developer fees of $25 to Google Play and a pending $99 to the Apple App Store.

WAvNA also relies on other Internet services like Google Alerts, Google Voice, Google Docs, and online PowerPoint templates to help run the business and put together the newsletters.

“Technology creates opportunities to share, reuse and make your own [products] easily and cheaply,” Florez said. “There are so many off-the-shelf products out there that make it look easy to look like a genius.”

Founded in January 2012, WAvNA was intended to provide a forum to discuss issues such as traffic, neighborhood programs, and beautification. After about a year and half, monthly meeting participation grew to about 60 members.

Hal Philipps, a member of WAvNA, said its products have been helpful. He had moved from another neighborhood association on the Beach but was disappointed that there wasn’t one in place at the time on West Avenue.

“My old neighborhood association in the Venetian Isles was strong in representation, but [WAvNA] created a means of communication that was much better than anything that I had ever experienced.” Philipps said.

Some residents of Miami Beach that live outside WAvNA’s district have signed up for the newsletters because they don’t have a neighborhood association, Philipps said, or they prefer WAvNA’s newsletter.

“Without a neighborhood association it’s very difficult to know what’s going on. The newsletter has ended up being such an informative piece of information,” Philipps said.

Other Miami Beach neighborhood associations like Collins Park, also email weekly newsletters to a list of over 300 as well as run a Facebook page. However, the president of Collins Park, Ray Breslin, says that he does not see himself participating in more social media platforms.

“Not for this 66-year-old. I will never tweet,” Breslin said. “I don’t even use LinkedIn even though I have an account.”

However, Breslin would permit a plugged-in individual, such as new board member Shawn Vardi, to expand to other platforms.

“[Vardi] will no doubt launch us to the next social media level,” Breslin said.

WAvNA opted to put so much emphasis on finding alternate methods to convey a message because its founders believe that having a wide array of communication methods is key in reaching as many residents as possible.

“Not everybody is going to engage in the same way,” Florez said. “Some people want to read the email, some want to show up to the meetings. All those different perspectives means you have to interact with them in a different way.”

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