Monthly Archives: November 2006

Neighborhood Scale

Kevin Harris found an interesting item:

Here’s another take on the scale of neighbourhood, developed for work on children’s play:

‘Doorstep’ – 60m straight line distance from home (100m walking)
‘Neighbourhood’ – 260m straight line distance from home (400m walking)
‘Local’ – 600m straight line distance from home (1km walking)

This comes from a presentation given by Issy Cole-Hamilton of Play England, at a recent Neighbourhoods Green seminar.

This deliniation is similar to what we’ve found in our work with Front Porch Forum:

1. Borrow a cup of sugar distance… homes within site. Maybe 20-30 households.
2. Your neighborhood… several blocks around you. Maybe 200-300 households.
3. Your side of town… an area, more than a neighborhood. Maybe 2,000-3,000 households.

Our service is aimed at the second level. We get folks who want us to make it work at the first or third levels… but that’s not what we’re designed for. Too small, and the forum doesn’t acheive a critical mass of users and the conversations dies out. Too large, and the sense of intimacy doesn’t occur.

Front Porch Forum TV Interview

Richard Kemp interviewed me about Front Porch Forum on his cable access show, Near and Far, on Channel 17 recently. It will be aired at 6 PM on Nov. 20, 2006. It’s also available online (video or audio podcast). This show is a decent primer on how Front Porch Forum works for anyone interested.

Supporting Neighbors in Need

I don’t have the references here in front of me, but I recall studies that found that people who live in areas with a strong sense of community are healthier than those who don’t. I don’t doubt it. Community is a huge compenent of quality of life. Good community can lower stress; bad experiences with the neighbors can increase stress. It’s hard enough to feel daunted by the people at work, or to experience a little road rage… but feeling unsupported or under attack in your home, your supposed safe haven, day in and day out… that’s tough.

We’re seeing more and more beautiful stories of neighbors helping neighbors through our experience operating Front Porch Forum. First-time parents without nearby family? Word goes out and meals, hand-me-down baby clothes, a changing table and stroller show up. A life-long resident in her 80s struggles to stay in her home… neighbors pitch in cutting grass, raking leaves, shoveling snow.

One of the most moving stories was captured by Cathy Resmer at Seven Days:

Arthur Goyette knows the value of good neighbors. His wife Betty died three years ago, but while she was battling cancer, his neighbors brought countless meals to their Caroline Street home. When the neighbors learned that Betty had always wanted to ride in a convertible, they found a dealership willing to loan them a car, and surprised the Goyettes with a Chrysler Sebring. When the couple drove down the street with the top down, people lined the block waving and taking pictures.

Remembering this time, the 71-year-old Goyette marvels that he barely knew some of the people who helped him. He might never have known them at all if it weren’t for an email newsletter called the Front Porch Forum, which serves the South End neighborhood known as the Five Sisters.

Goyette’s neighbors used the newsletter to organize support for the family. “If the web wasn’t there,” he says, “it never would have happened.” (Read the full article.)

One motivator for starting Front Porch Forum was selfish… Valerie and I know that strong community is and will be crucial for our son’s continued well being. Ben is seven and has severe cerebral palsy. We, Ben and the entire family, need broad support from those around us to provide him with the basics of a good life. He has both incredible potential and severe challenges.

Which brings me to today’s movie… truly amazing. Ben and I get out for walks, we love to swim in the lake, and he’s always enjoyed squeezing into our bike trailer behind me… but we’ll never be in this league. Go see the video (or watch it below) and read the story.

YouTube Preview Image

TV Show about Local Online Communities

CCTV Channel 17 in Burlington, VT will broadcast a talk show about how to build local face-to-face community using online tools. Front Porch Forum and FreeCycle are featured. The show, Media Literacy Series – Internet Communities, originally aired on Sep 27, 2006 and will be repeated:

Sun, Nov 12, 2006 at 11:52:00 PM
Mon, Nov 13, 2006 at 4:52:00 AM
Mon, Nov 13, 2006 at 10:52:00 AM
Both the video and podcast are also available on Front Porch Forum’s media page.

Halloween at the pinnacle of community in neighborhood

As I wrote on Oct. 31 after the kids were de-costumed and put to bed, Halloween was wonderful in our neighborhood this year… a contender for “best community day of the year”… right up there with the July street-wide yard sale and block party (party was rained out this year).

Kevin Harris caught the idea:

Here’s a curious little piece by Robert Vandervelde in the Globe and Mail raking over changes in the social experience of Hallowe’en.

It’s called ‘The neighbourhood or the mall?’ with the writer reflecting a bit glumly on the decline in the number of kids in his neighbourhood who come to the door to scrounge, sorry, earn candy.

Last year he claims that Hallowe’en “gave me a chance to feel a part of my new neighbourhood. After going months without introducing myself to some of my neighbours, I could instead demonstrate my generous spirit through liberal distribution of candy to their children.”

The turnout was poor. Apparently the kids took the soft option, missing out on the notion of scariness in the dark and getting their pickings at the mall.

I, however, lament that our kids are off the streets. Will they still skirt the dark recesses of their minds by taking candy from a Gap cashier? Will they experience the same community experience when Halloween treats are given to attract consumers instead of out of a sense of neighbourly generosity?

It can’t be the same – the fear and magic you feel when the wind blows through the trees on a dark night can’t be recreated in a mall. The wild excitement of Halloween night seems tamed when you walk down a mall looking for corporate handouts.

Thanks to David Sillito for the link.

Front Porch Forum launches forum for volunteers

Today Front Porch Forum launched an online forum open only to FPF Neighborhood Volunteers in Chittenden County, Vermont, USA. Volunteers can trade tips for recruiting residents to join their neighborhood forums, as well as share fodder for quality local messages. If you live in the Burlington area, sign up for your forum today, then log onto the website and edit your account page to join the 150+ community organizers who are participating. Cheers!

What to do about declining social capital

So many wonderful success stories across the country of people coming together to build community. It happens all the time. In fact, the Bowling Alone people published Better Together: Restoring the American Community in 2003.
Front Porch Forum is our attempt to reverse these trends toward isolation. Front Porch Forum’s mission is to help neighbors connect and foster community within their neighborhood.

Social Capital, Inc. is another example. SCI’s mission is to “strengthen communities by connecting diverse individuals and organizations through civic engagement initiatives.”

Social Capital Waning in America?

Several reports in the media over the past 5-10 years about the decline of social capital in America… decay of community, loss of civic involvement and civility.

Robert D. Putnam made a splash with Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000). In it, he boiled down large sets of data to such sound bites as:

Declining Social Capital Trends over the last 25 years:
-Attending Club Meetings: Down 58%
-Family dinners: Down 33%
-Having friends over: Down 45%
Surprising Facts:
-Joining one group cuts in half your odds of dying next year.
-Ten minutes of commuting reduces social capital by 10%.

The Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America continues this work at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Another compelling study reported that the percentage of Americans with no one in which to confide soared from 10% in 1985 to 25% in 2004. And 25% of U.S. households have only one person in them, vs. 10% in 1950. Isolation appears to be increasing.

Front Porch Forum Update

[Originally published on Front Porch Forum for members in Chittenden Co., Vermont, Oct. 31, 2006]

Happy Halloween! Hundreds of trick-or-treaters combing our neighborhood tonight… beautiful fall weather and a wonderful reminder of how good a vibrant and neighborly community can be. Our mission with Front Porch Forum is to help neighbors connect and foster healthy community… so here’s an update. (By the way, this likely will be the last of such reports as we’re developing a blog for this kind of thing. We aim to keep each neighborhood forum filled with neighborhood items instead of this stuff… so please skip the update below if it’s not for you.)

We’ve lost count of the hundreds of successful direct results coming out of the various neighborhood forums around Chittenden County… babysitter finds work, homeowner finds a good roofer, house sold, school meeting announced and attracts record attendance, etc.

Even better, though, are the stories of the second tier benefits where neighbors get to know each other a little better and a few more strands are woven into the web of community.

One forum member reported “the quick and honest responses to my request for an auto mechanic recommendation were astounding.” He went on to say that he looked forward to meeting and getting to know these previously anonymous neighbors.

In a different neighborhood, a group of residents were eager to reestablish a shortcut to their elementary school that recently had been cut off. They used their forum to inform parents and also to find a community partner willing to split the cost of fencing a new safe path around a small industrial site. Being well organized and with some funding already in hand, they were able to work constructively with their school to get the job done in record time. Now more kids are walking and biking to school, instead of being driven around the long way.

Another forum member reported trying to sell her car through both print and online classifieds with no luck. As an afterthought she tried her neighborhood’s forum and 3-4 neighbors called to express interest… people she hadn’t known before who live a block or two away.

See http://frontporchforum.com/testimonials/ for more examples. Each of these small connections adds up!

At the close of our second full month of operations we have more than 2,000 local households on board, spread across 130 neighborhood forums… wow! A few dozen forums are well on their way with lots of members and messages, while the remaining neighborhoods have just a few early pioneers. If this is your case, take heart… that’s how all of the forums start. Each one needs one or more local champions to spread the word.

Most folks report joining because they heard about it from a neighbor, friend, or work colleague. Forums start to take on a life of their own once 75-100 residents register, so please keep reaching out! (Check out the “Pitch In!” webpage after you log in with your password at http://frontporchforum.com/ for a flyer, etc.)

We’d also like to welcome the 135 households of the Brennan Woods neighborhood (Williston) that joined their forum in one fell swoop this month. Their neighborhood association asked to convert their old email list of neighbors over to Front Porch Forum… voila! Instant forum. Several other neighborhood and condo associations are considering a similar move… write (contact@frontporchforum.com) or call me (802-540-0069) to explore this route for your area… much more effective than other options.

By the way, forums are catching on in some rural areas too, including parts of Westford, Hinesburg, Jericho and other towns.

Everytime Front Porch Forum is mentioned in local newspapers, television, radio, newsletters, email lists, blogs, etc. more people sign up for their neighborhood’s forum. We’re finding that most folks need to hear/read about Front Porch Forum 6-7 times before they actually go online and register. Can you help FPF get in print or on the air? Increasingly, nonprofit, church and employer newsletters are printing a line or two telling their readers about this free community-building service. Some members are writing letters to the editor too. The buzz is building! See the latest (including video) at:

In fact, I’ll be on a Channel 15 panel discussion that is occuring Nov. 2 at 6:30 PM called “Blogging and the Democratization of Media: From the Printing Press to Wikipedia and Beyond.” Please come and enjoy the show at VCAM’s studio at 208 Flynn Ave. in the South End of Burlington. Details at:

Reminder… if you abandon your email address (change of job, new internet service provider, etc.), you need to update your Front Porch Forum account. Otherwise, we’ll lose contact with you and you will NO LONGER receive your neighborhood’s forum. To update your account with us, log on to http://frontporchforum.com/ with your password and click Account. If you ever do lose touch with us, please send me at note and we’ll work to get things sorted out.

MOST IMPORTANT (for baseball fans)
As a long-suffering Detroit Tigers fan (some old family history), please keep me and our young children in your thoughts. They really were the best team in baseball for the first 3/4s of the season, despite their performance in the World Series. Buckner just made one mistake for everyone to lament… I lost count of the Tigers’ errors. Oh well… next year! (Or will G. Steinbrenner gobble up our young stars?)