NEW YORK — Craigslist founder Craig Newmark sees light at the end of this economic downturn, with technology and teamwork serving as sparks for a recovery.
"Our system of representative democracy, with its flaws, works OK. What’s different now is the Internet makes this grassroots democracy possible on a large scale," said Newmark, an avid supporter of President-elect Obama, during an appearance Wednesday at the Real Estate Connect conference in New York City.
"Instead of thousands of people getting involved, we can get millions and maybe tens of millions involved, and that’s just beginning to happen. It’s a start."
He added, "I see the beginning of people working together, actually from the bottom up, to support some of the programs that we’re going to need to get the country back on track."
The craigslist empire includes sites in about 550 cities in 50 countries, with about 12 billion page views and 50 million users per month. He works in customer service for the company, which began as a San Francisco-based e-mail list of events in 1995 before morphing into a community Web site. Craigslist became a for-profit company in 1999.
Newmark has promoted volunteerism and civic engagement to mend the nation’s wounds, and he said he is hopeful that these tough times will unite the nation.
"In American history when we’re faced with actual challenges we do pretty well. And actually, people of all ages are responding to this (current challenge)," he said.
Expectations are high for the Obama administration, he said, and patience will be key as there is no quick fix for this economic rut.
"People get how much the system has deteriorated, and so people are willing to be patient and give people a break," he said.
"You try to change things too fast and then things start to break down, and yet you can’t lose momentum."
The younger generation has a long road ahead, he said, though the dark times could provide an "opportunity to rebuild the country, maybe becoming the next ‘Greatest Generation,’ " a reference to those who grew up during the Great Depression era.
Commenting on the Obama administration’s planned appointment of a national tech guru — a chief technology officer — Newmark said he believes the position "should be a very high-level thing," something akin to a national security coordinator.
He said he’d like to see broader broadband Internet and wireless Internet access. "I want to see the ability to get online almost instantly, wherever you are," he said.
While Newmark is a staunch supporter of citizen journalism, and while craigslist allows for-sale-by-owner home listings, Newmark said pros are still necessary. "I think in every area — real estate but also journalism — we’re going to need professionals who know how to do things."
On buying real estate in New York: He said he has toyed with the idea and has a couple of neighborhoods and real estate professionals in mind, but he’s still up in the air. "I do like Park Slope. I’m considering East Village, West Village — who knows?"
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