According to a 2013 study, only 61% of American homeowners know their neighbors’ names. For renters, only 39%. This probably isn’t shocking to most but it clearly illustrates the social disconnect between us and the people we live closest to.
If you are looking for a culprit, technology often takes the blame. Children don’t play outside as often as in the past, opting for indoor activities like video games and spending time online. Asking your neighbor for information or advice is rare when you can simply look it up online. Even automobiles keep us from walking past our neighbors’ houses.
Ironically, technology could also be a catalyst that brings neighbors back together. Enter Nextdoor — a relatively new online civic engagement platform for neighborhoods and their residents.
More than 650 neighborhoods from the greater San Antonio area are listed on Nextdoor and thousands of San Antonians use the app every day to discuss community issues, post classifieds, share social events, and more.
One of the application's key features is private networks with verified user profiles. Every user must verify their address by entering a code mailed to their home before joining a neighborhood on Nextdoor so users know that real neighbors are logged into a neighborhood community.
Neighbors in San Antonio’s Monte Vista neighborhood have been using Nextdoor for two years and has 436 active users.
“Before Nextdoor, we did not have a good way of communicating about lost pets or neighborhood security,” said Monte Vista resident Tertia Emerson.
Public safety has become a huge part of Nextdoor. More than 40% of posts by neighbors on Nextdoor involve community or public safety issues. The San Antonio Police Department and other public agencies all over the country are also joining Nextdoor to monitor discussions about local crime and emergencies.
The app has gained widespread use in Sacramento, Calif. with more than 20,000 resident users.
Sacramento Police Chief Sam Somers has been very impressed with the application.
“Now we have something that puts neighborhood watch on steroids,” he said.
Nextdoor also features online discussion forums, polls, private messaging, groups, and an event schedule – much like the offerings of Facebook. All of these features help neighbors connect with one another and stay in touch with what’s going on in the neighborhood.
Are there any downsides to Nextdoor? Most residents and neighborhood leaders seem to love the app with very few complaints. However, Floyd Daigle, one of the leads for Nextdoor Monte Vista, described one problem with the app.
“I do get complaints about posts that are inappropriate but most of those complaints have to do with people that use the forum for their own agendas,” Daigle said.
To solve this problem, Nextdoor allows residents to “flag” a post, reporting it to moderators as a inappropriate, abusive, or commercial post. This helps keep each Nextdoor community free of spam, inappropriate, and off-topic comments.
Nextdoor is a powerful civic engagement application that might be your best bet to get to know your neighbors. Is your neighborhood on Nextdoor? Visit Nextdoor-SanAntonio to find your community and start re-engaging your neighbors in a whole new way.
*Top image: Neighbors connect using Nextdoor, a website similar to Facebook – but focused on making geographic connections. Photo by Paul DiGiovanni.