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Nextdoor Promoting Neighborhoods

Accompanying images can be viewed on page 1 of the September issue 2017 issue pdf

By Larry Ray*

“I feel home, when I see the faces that remember my own. I feel home when I’m chillin outside with the people I know. I feel home and that’s just what I feel. Home is reality.” (Lyrics from a song often performed by the reggae, jam band Of a Revolution founded in 1996 in Rockville, Maryland.)

The United States, specifically, the District of Columbia, may be viewed as a network of neighborhoods. But our society has drifted away from these types of communities. People travel about. People are working diligently. People are focused on their own lives, families and homes. People have forgotten the village concept.

■ 93% of people when interviewed say it is important to look out for your neighbors;

■ 28% say they do not know their neighbors by name;

■ 67% would like to know their neighbors better;

■ 39% would lend items to their neighbors;

■ Only 9% exchange emails with their neighbors;

■ Only 26% actually speak to their neighbors.

According to findings from the National Data Program for the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago’s ongoing General Social Survey, the percentage of Americans reporting a social evening with a neighbor has plummeted from 61% in 1974 to 46% in 2014.

Beginning in the 1930’s American society began to revolve not around agrarian communities but cities. Sociologists worried about the spread of anomie or “unconnectedness.” Sociologist Louis Wirth worried about “the disappearance of the neighborhood.” Today, cities such as Washington are resurging. Globalization has created international next door communities, but are these “villages” of people who know each other? Are these neighbors “socially connected?”

In global cities such as DC, change inevitable and disquieting. Your banker changes; your tennis partner moves; your favorite CVS clerk is transferred. Suddenly, “your” ceases to be and the feeling of affiliation is lost.

The private social network Nextdoor seeks to change this for you, your neighbors and your community. It’s the easiest way for you and your neighbors to talk online and make all of your lives better in the real world. And it’s free.

Thousands of neighborhoods are already using Nextdoor to build happier, safer places to call home.

People are using Nextdoor to quickly get the word out about break-ins, organize neighborhood watch groups, track down trustworthy babysitters, find out who does the best paint job, ask for help keeping an eye out for a lost dog, finding a new home for an outgrown bike, even to find out the first name of a neighbor down the block.

Nextdoor’s mission is to provide a trusted platform where neighbors work together to build stronger, safer, happier communities, here in DC and across the country serving over 150,000 distinct neighborhoods, as well as another 10,000 neighborhoods in Germany and the UK.

Founded in 2010 and based in San Francisco, Nextdoor is staffed by a team of 187 persons who are passionate about building stronger and safer neighborhoods. Funding has been provided by Benchmark Capital, Greylock Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Tiger Global Management, Shasta Ventures, as well as other investors and Silicon Valley “angels.”

Co-founder Sarah Leary, Co-Founder describes the communication gap that they  focused on in 2010: “Twitter is good for topics; Facebook is good for families; and LinkedIn great for professional networking, but there was something missing — a communication application for a large chunk of our lives.” Most neighbors don’t know each other. Maybe this is because of the long commutes or several people working in the household or technology. So Leary believes that technology can fulfill this missing piece.

How does Nextdoor work?

First, it is private with real names and addresses that are verified. There is almost no public access. Second, it is hyper-local; neighborhoods have discrete boundaries. Finally, Nextdoor is useful in terms of recommendations, classifieds, events and crime/safety issues creating a trusting environment.

A year after the launch, there were calls for local officials to have access and now they do, reporting on power outages, traffic issues, and other matters directly affecting neighborhood residents.

Not long after gaining momentum, Nextdoor’s management noticed a potential safety concern: the “suspicious person” entry. At first, most user members were describing the suspicious person as “Young Black Male.” Some considered this to be racist. Of course, one might also characterize an entry as sexist or ageist. So as to obtain guidance on how to best approach this, Nextdoor consulted with the former Director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service (CRS). He advised that neighbors should look for other identifying features such as tattoos and clothing.

User-Member Postings

Common topics and concerns of Nextdoor members are of a wide variety, including (in no particular order) pet grooming, rust proofing ironwork and fire escapes, access to free bubble wrap, lawn mowers, stroller, responsible nannies, free paint and paint samples.

Nextdoor also delivers warnings and vital alerts about crime (like a recent armed robbery on 10th Street, NW between Spring Road and Otis Place), stolen bikes, lost wallets (like one recently found in Meridian Hill Park), missing persons,  announcing neighborhood gatherings –- even one as modest as some neighbors on a block holding a last-minute “happy hour.”

Northwest Neighborhood User-Members’ Reactions

Kerry: “I like the concept of linking neighbors, but once I joined I received way too many emails about topics of which I had no interest. I have now blocked those emails and visit the site directly when I want to.”

Sharon: “I love cats and make it my business to take care of cats in my neighborhood. Through Nextdoor, I have linked many cats to their guardians, both live and regrettably dead cats.”

Debbie: “I found Nextdoor like the old CB radio; that is, there are so many conversations going on in your neighborhood and Nextdoor exposes such. In some ways, Nextdoor has substituted for our ineffective community association.”

No Coordination with Other Neighborhood Groups

One would assume that there would be coordination between Nextdoor and other community groups, but that does not seem to be the case.

Robin Diener, President of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) reports that they have “no association with Nextdoor,” stating further that “many people in Dupont use both the [Yahoo neighborhood-focused listserv] Dupont Forum and Nextdoor. Dupont Forum was established years ago and has been maintained by a local resident, Rob Halligan, who is also a former ANC [commissioner] and past DCCA president.”

Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau also reports no linkages to date between her office and Nextdoor.

Gottlieb Simon, the director of the DC Mayor’s Officer of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, says he “believes a few ANC commissioners have found it useful.” (Each of the 299 commissioners across the District represent approximately  2,000 residents in their Single Member Districts.)


Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr., in his August 7, 2017 “Is America Getting Lonelier?” essay, asked, “Are we building great places to live . . . that are not actually neighborhoods?”

And, Marc J. Dunkelman in his Summer 2017 Hedgehog Review essay, “Next Door Strangers:  The Crisis of Urban Anonymity” (Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, Univ. of Virginia) ends by saying, “In cities where neighbors remain strangers, the crucial ingredient of a thriving American community will be missing.”

*Author Larry Ray, a resident of North Columbia Heights, has served as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights and also previously served as President of the North Columbia Heights Civic Association.

Copyright © 2017 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. All rights reserved.