The Old Northeast feels like a small, friendly neighborhood to me because so many people in the neighborhood are friendly. I regularly take walks and run into neighbors I do not know by name but readily greet and, more often than not, end up chatting with for a few minutes.
A few years back, while walking and looking down at the street, a random thought made me wonder how many bricks there are in the Old Northeast roads. I started doing the math, thinking there must be hundreds of thousands, but it didn’t take long to realize we have millions of bricks in our neighborhood. And with that realization came the awareness that, while we feel small and intimate, we live in a very BIG neighborhood. According to the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association (HONNA), there are over 4,000 households and 7,500 residents in the Old Northeast. Many of us grew up in towns that were smaller than that. And yet, we feel close. How fortunate.
The more I thought about the size of the neighborhood, the more I appreciated the sense of closeness, but at the same time, realized it is not possible for us all to be that connected. I also got a new appreciation for the work HONNA does given the incredible challenge of working with a neighborhood this large. Then I learned about the website called Nextdoor.com just as it was launching. Nextdoor is all about facilitating the connections of neighbors. Their “neighborhoods” are literally geographic neighborhoods. In fact, the only way you can belong to a neighborhood is by verification that you live within the physical boundaries of the neighborhood.
So I signed us up. That was a few years ago. The concept of a literal neighborhood being online was new. I had no clue what to expect. And not much happened. In fact, it pretty much died on the vine because Nextdoor gives you a narrow window of time to get a dozen or so people to “claim” their neighborhood and I couldn’t get it done.
I forgot about it.
Last year Jane Withers picked up the lead and she was able to find critical mass. Since that time 84 people have joined and the value is just now starting to be realized. Neighbors have found lost pets, found handy people for jobs, been alerted to crimes, invited a broader swath of neighbors to block parties, and (my favorite) now have a means to remember people’s names. I suspect this is just the tip of the potential.
Okay… the more I write, the more I realize this may sound like a sales pitch. Well, in a sense, it is. It is an invitation for us all to be more readily connected in the same way we anecdotally connect now. There is no money involved. I cannot even ascertain how Nextdoor will ultimately make money off this. All you have to do is go to www.nextdoor.com and identify our neighborhood. It will offer a few ways you can verify that you live here. An indication of our privacy protection is that you cannot get access to our neighborhood until you are verified. Once you are in, you will be able to see the map of dwellings of current members. And you will see we are spread throughout the neighborhood – though only sparsely today.
In 2009, I wrote the book Simple Community from decades of research I have done on American social life pointing to the need for more enriched community relationships. Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida State Director, and I actually work together to encourage more engaged community. He recently hosted a city-wide meeting of community leaders and while we were preparing for that meeting, I told him about Nextdoor.com. After we claimed the Old Northeast on Nextdoor, others around us started their own neighborhood groups. Following our conversation, Jeff established the Crescent Heights neighborhood just to the Northwest of us, and in Jeff’s own words.
“When Rich told me about nextdoor.com, I was intrigued for a lot of the same reasons Rich was. A social network that was neighborhood-specific seemed like a great way to connect in real-time with your neighbors and strengthen the bonds of community further. I started noodling around and discovered that Nextdoor.com even allows you to send postcards to invite neighbors free of charge. We “qualified” the first time around with about one day to spare, and since then it’s steadily grown, both in members and in interaction. Now, when I wonder what the new business on the corner will be, I ask on Nextdoor. When someone finds a pet, needs a plumber, or has a microwave to pass on, they use Nextdoor. And as one who travels a lot, it’s comforting to have a reminder on my phone of the community I call home and what’s going on there.”
Downtown St. Petersburg is also up and running with 91 members. Many of you have been kind enough to engage with me on the brick streets of the neighborhood. Please, engage with us on Nextdoor.com too.