Thu07312014

Now I network the neighborhood: The Living Experiment

A year ago I joined Nextdoor, an online private social networking group tailored for specific neighborhoods. With our kids now grown, no dogs to walk and a busy work schedule, I found myself increasingly disconnected from the wonderful neighborhood where we’ve lived for 28 years. Few opportunities presented themselves to meet new neighbors or even visit with ones I’ve known for decades. While joining an online neighborhood group was no substitute for actually having a real conversation with a neighbor, I hoped it would prove a nice connection point, and so it has.

The Nextdoor group is not a Facebook-style forum. There are no vacation pics, no political plugs and no links to articles. With a membership of more than 250 residents and rapidly increasing, our group is focused on warmly welcoming new members and serving as a valuable local resource. Residents, for example, log on to ask neighbors to be on the lookout for lost pets, including a clever tortoise named Houdini, equipped with an uncanny ability to repeatedly escape its enclosure and roam the neighborhood.

The “Buy/Sell/Free” section helps move unwanted furniture, baby items and even excess lemons and apricots from local trees. Urgent appeals for recommendations for plumbers, electricians and mechanics are quickly met with names of service providers who have done good work for our neighbors.

But it was a recent crime spree that got everyone’s attention. Over the summer, neighbors posted incidents of high-end bikes stolen out of open garages. And when a thief climbed into an unlocked window in the back of a nearby home and stole jewelry, we learned about it via the Nextdoor site within hours. Several more break-ins followed.

Residents in the group became more vigilant about safety, and my family took heed. After decades of rarely locking up when leaving the house and never once having a problem, we are now in the habit of keeping our doors locked even while at home.

When someone organized a neighborhood watch meeting and invited the local police department to give a presentation, more than 50 residents attended.

Most of the information was common sense: lock doors, use timers for lights, inventory valuable items. We were advised not to leave anything in our cars. We learned that if we choose not to answer a knock on the door, we shouldn’t pretend that we aren’t home, as silence might trigger a break-in. It was comforting to hear the police encourage residents to call 911 or the nonemergency police department number whenever they encounter something suspicious.

Wouldn’t you know it? Even the police have jumped on the social networking bandwagon. In my town you can “like” our local police department on Facebook and – hot tip – see where officers are giving traffic tickets. And get this: our police department is on Twitter.

What was the No. 1 suggestion the police offered for protecting ourselves? Get to know our neighbors so we can watch out for one another. To be sure, face to face is still the best social networking, but I’m now an advocate for the online variety, too. And next time I need the name of a good plumber, I know just where to turn.

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