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Monthly Archives: February 2007

Monthly Sampler: Neighborhood Poker Game

So I tried listing a week’s worth of message titles a couple times (here and here), and now a month and nearly 2,000 new messages have slipped by… too many to list. Let’s go with some samples of what Front Porch Forum members wrote in February:

  • Let’s get a neighborhood poker game started in the King Maple area of Burlington.
  • Dog lost in the big box parking lots. Dog found!
  • Did anyone else’s propane price go up nearly 50% last month in Hinesburg?
  • Warm maple-cinnamon buns delivered to your Charlotte home for school fundraiser.
  • New baby coming and hand-me-downs needed in the Five Sisters.
  • Lots of ideas discussed for underutilized corner store space on St. Paul Street.
  • Neighbors stepping up to reclaim ailing pocket park at S. Winooski and St. Paul.
  • Seeking kombucha tea culture… I have no idea what this is.
  • Snowpants needed for Somali Bantu kids sledding this week.
  • Details of emergencies sent to specific neighborhoods from Burlington Fire Department.
  • Discussion about changing Barlow Street to one-way in Winooski.
  • Intervale car break-ins reported and discussed.
  • South End car ransacker nabbed; police ask forum members to reclaim recovered loot.
  • The usual array of housing, cars, furniture, contractor, etc. postings.
  • Free couch, iMac, printers, linens, baby stuff, desk, slip cover, ficus plant, misc. electronics, etc.
  • Lots of discussions about broadband and TV options across the county.
  • Lots of Town Meeting lead-up announcements and opinions.
  • Lots and lots snow-related requests, offers, complaints and thanks.
  • Oh… and there’s always cats. This month’s tip… look under your porch after a blizzard. Several folks found snowed-in kitties eager to get out, get fed and get warm!

Build Igloo for Chocolate… before it’s too late!

A group of Lakeside Neighborhood Forum members in Burlington’s South End recently formed the Lakeside Climate Club… or something to that effect. They gather to take a hard look at global climate change and discuss a personal and neighborhood response.

But this group isn’t letting a little cataclysmic manmade disaster get in the way of some fun. Witness their first action… a neighborhood igloo building contest… “before it’s too late!” I love it.

And the kicker, all neighborhood participants (kids and adults) will get a treat from neighboring Lake Champlain Chocolates, with the grand champion carting home something even better from this favorite local sponsor… a chocolate polar bear? Have to wait until Sunday’s judging to see, I guess (March 4 at noon).

And this isn’t the only neighborhood group forming locally to address global climate change. Others in the South Union, Five Sisters, The Addition, and Lakewood Neighborhood Forums have met at least once. Some are using a program called the Low Carbon Diet from the Empowerment Institute.

In fact, my wife just told me that we’re hosting the second meeting of just such a group in our neighborhood this weekend… but, alas, no mention of igloos or chocolate. Gotta work on that.

Anyone in Chittenden County interested in getting something going in his/her neighborhood, it’s simple… post a notice on your neighborhood forum, hold a first meeting/social event, and get rolling. Use the Low Carbon Diet, watch Al Gore’s award-winning movie, or forge your own path.


Craigslist didn’t kill Newspapers

I just read an interesting article from the U.K. about Craigslist, based on an interview with CEO Jim Buckmaster. On daily newspapers in the United States:

“I think it’s exaggerated to say that Craigslist has had a devastating impact on classifieds revenue,” said Buckmaster. “Newspapers as an industry are still twice as profitable as the average United States industry.”

“Journalism as practiced at newspapers has been hurt by an excess of money over the years as you’ve seen newspapers bought and sold and consolidated into large chains run by corporate managers to maximise profit, and increasingly over decades have resorted to running wire stories, putting an ever-greater proportion of advertising into their newspapers and shying away from writing hard-hitting stories about corruption in high places,” said Buckmaster. “The financial position of newspapers has not declined, it has more plateaued.”

And on dot.com business models:

“Our goal is to maximise utility for users, so we concentrate on doing what users ask us to do and little else. We do want to run a healthy business and we do have a healthy business, but beyond that maximising profits and revenues has never been a primary goal. It’s unfathomable to the financial community and Wall Street, it’s antithetical to their whole world view, it’s sacrilegious.”

It is in the top 10 English language websites by traffic, it serves six billion pages a month to 10 million users, yet it only employs 23 staff. It is those low costs which have kept it in business.

“It was fairly ironic, 100 per cent of dotcoms were geared toward trying to achieve an IPO and make a lot of money and 99 per cent or more of those companies went bust without making a nickel,” said Buckmaster. “Craigslist was never about money, and yet we were one of the very few that came through the bust and have done well year after year.”

Classified-type postings within neighborhood forums continue to grow at Front Porch Forum. I’ve heard from many of our members that when they failed to get a response to classified ads posted in the local paper and craigslist, they’ve turned to Front Porch Forum. They post a note to their neighbors and receive 3-4 responses within 24 hours. Doing business with a neighbor vs. a stranger is a big difference. Would you rather buy a used car for your teenager from some stranger 45-minutes away, or from the neighbor around the corner? Plenty of examples on our Testimonials page and past blog entries.


Winooski turns to Front Porch Forum

Andy Potter filed a wonderful story for Channel 3 News tonight about how the City of Winooski is turning to Front Porch Forum. Video below. Text here and on the WCAX website.


Lemming vs. Neighbor

A dozen years ago I drove a pedicab in Washington, DC… think rickshaw built on a mountainbike frame. I hauled tourists and locals for a fee. The little company had four cabs and we stayed in touch with hand-held radios. Lots of stories from that experience.

But I thought of one in particular tonight over dinner with friends. I often found myself hustling fares at the Foggy Bottom Metro stop in the evenings half-way between the Georgetown bars and the monuments on the Mall.

When a train pulled in, I’d be enveloped in a sea of people flooding by. Once the tide ebbed, assuming I hadn’t landed a customer, I’d settle in waiting for the next wave. In those intervals, I realized that I wasn’t alone. A half-dozen of us stayed put, while thousands of strangers kept moving.

The cop, the souvenir vendor, the panhandler, the mechanic working on the escalator, the girl with the guitar and open case, and me.

After a few rounds, a rapport developed. “Did you see the guy with the hair?” “Yeah, I wonder what he does when it rains?” Whatever… my point is that we treated each other as humans; we shared friendly chit chat.

I had never stood still at a subway stop for 20 minutes before. What had I missed?

I viewed the teeming masses slipping by us as curiosities and potential customers. The street musician and homeless guy probably wondered who might be a soft touch. The cop was looking for troublemakers. The mechanic maybe just saw weight limits being exceeded. I don’t think any of us saw them all as people. None of us standing still tried to make a real human connection with the movers… although if one of them had stopped and hung out for 20 minutes he’d likely have joined our little social club.

Which takes me back 25 years to Cedar Point, a huge amusement park in Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie. Two of my older brothers worked summers there, and, as an impressionable high school kid I got to go for an overnight visit (what were my parents thinking?).

This park was filled with hundreds of 20-year-old summer staff standing still, while thousands of people streamed through every day.

After pitching in to get the place ready in the morning and connecting with dozens of co-workers, my oldest brother turned to me as the front gates swung open and said “hang on, here come the animals.” Same as the Metro stop.

So, all this reminiscing brings me back around to Front Porch Forum. Many folks I’ve talked to recently say that they feel like the subway passengers and “animals”/customers at the amusement park in their own neighborhoods. And they don’t want to be strangers in their own community, marching through it anonymously.

So, short of standing on the corner and attempting to engage any person who happens by, how do you become one of the folks who is tuned in and connected with your community?
It seems that Front Porch Forum can provide a way of “standing still” in the neighborhood, even while people move their busy day. An increasing number of our members report feeling this way… and that’s no mean feat.


Local Government and Front Porch Forum

Local officials continue to pick up on the potential value of Front Porch Forum for their work. I had three state reps., a village trustee, and a schoolboard member join their neighborhood forums in the past couple days. Each signed up for the several neighborhood forums covering his/her district.

Still other folks are spreading the word about Front Porch Forum through public channels. A school commissioner running for reelection included a bit about FPF in her campaign literature. Volunteers in Westford, Jericho, Underhill and perhaps Williston plan to set up a table on Town Meeting Day to hand out FPF flyers. Any other volunteers out there for other parts of Chittenden County?

And then the Burlington Free Press reported the following today:

Erik Heikel, 29, is running a write-in campaign to fill [a] vacated seat [on Winooski’s City Council]. Heikel sees himself as part of the new population trend of Winooski — people in their late 20s and early 30s moving into Winooski to find affordable housing for their families. Heikel has been involved with Winooski’s “Front Porch Forum,” a neighborhood Internet site. Heikel said he wants to use the forum to keep younger people involved in city government.

And from K.G. in The Addition Neighborhood Forum in Burlington:

It is amazing to be a part of this forum because you get a glimpse at how our city government operates.


Saying “Thank You” says a Lot

We’ve seen a run of “thank you neighbor” messages in various forums. Not only is that a lovely gesture to counter a good deed, but it spreads the good will even farther. I’ve had several Front Porch Forum members (not involved with the good deeds in question) tell me that reading these thank you notes encourages them to act the
Good Samaritan role themselves. Examples:

I want to thank all those who have been so markedly supportive to my kids and me. My house stood burning and the kids and I were surrounded by you my neighbors who enveloped us with love and humor and so so much kindness. When I arrived on the scene my knees were giving out and I could barely stand… Teenagers on the street came to hug me. Parents would show up with such good intentions and humor that calm and possibly a half a smile showed on my face. Hats and gloves and blankets and leggings were placed on my person. I could regroup. The generous gift cards have saved my butt on a couple of levels but more importantly I was able to get the kids some new things at Old Navy which served quite well in the shopping therapy arena. Again a sincere thank you to everyone who has so generously reached out to all of us. -M.K., Five Sisters Neighborhood Forum

And the Valentine’s Day blizzard generated lots of this. First, a senior citizen received help from a neighbor, K.R., when the snow blocked even her attempts to let her dogs outside. She was grateful and posted a thank you and request that the K.R. stop by to receive the pay she felt she owed her. K.R.’s response:

I’m glad to have helped out shoveling your deck and side way. I’m pleased the dogs can go out and get some fresh air. No need to pay. I was happy to do it for you. What are neighbors for? -K.R., The Orchards Neighborhood Forum

Other examples:

I just wanted to send out a thank you to everyone who has been helping with this crazy amount of snow we have. Yesterday when I was attempting to unbury my car from a huge snow drift on the side of College St., numerous people stopped by to help or just to encourage. We’ve also watched from our windows as people rallied together to push cars up the hill or out of stuck driveways. Our neighborhood is coming together during this blizzard and it is wonderful to see :-) B.G., Buell Neighborhood Forum

The recent calls for help during and after the snowstorm reminded me of how much we count on our community to come together during times of need. I’m a single mom of a four year old. When we were getting buried last week, I resigned myself to shoveling in 5 minutes spans — going back inside to make sure she was still safely occupied with her dolls. So imagine my surprise and gratitude when I returned outside to see that someone had shoveled half my driveway when I wasn’t looking. And imagine my greater surprise and thanks when a couple of other neighbors joined to help me find my car inside a giant drift and finish the whole shoveling job. So amid the calls for assistance on this forum, I wanted to post public thanks for assistance given to my daughter and me… thank you. You are good neighbors. -C.C., The Addition Neighborhood Forum

So, thanks to all the great thank-you note writers!


Parents get Bus Issue on Agenda

Getting kids to high school… now there’s a challenge that will capture lots of families’ attention.

Burlington High School is in the New North End, two to three miles from the South End, but tough to get to for many people. And the school department does not have a fleet of school buses. Families are responsible for getting their kids to school.

Many people would like to use the local transit authority buses, CCTA. However, from the South End the bus will deliver kids tens minute late for the start of the school day… which obviously doesn’t work. The only less popular option is the one before which drops students 45 minutes EARLY… I can’t imagine why that one isn’t loaded to the gills. ;-)

So a concerned parent started asking questions. It seems that the bus schedule can’t be changed easily as it ties into a whole web of interwoven lines. And the school can’t easily adjust its timing. So, in the past, that might of been the end of it.

In this case, however, the parent turned to Front Porch Forum. She set up a petition on a free web service asking the school to start classes ten minutes later. She posted a link to her online petition on her neighborhood’s forum. Then, she got creative and asked a number of other parents to do the same on their neighborhood forums.

In a flash, she had 85 signatures in hand when she made the case at the regular school board meeting. And many of the forums were buzzing with follow-up comments from other neighbors. An issue was born.

Today a member of the CCTA board weighed in across several neighborhood forums.  While far from resolved, this longstanding problem moved into the spotlight overnight because one determined parent made effective use of Front Porch Forum.  Who and what issue is next?


Forum Members answer Call to Shovel

Dozens of Front Porch Forum members requested help from their neighbors in the wake of the blizzard… most in need of snow removal. Others posted generous offers to help. We also were glad to help spread the word about Operation Snow Shovel… apparently to good effect:

Thanks so, so much for posting the message about Operation Snow Shovel throughout Burlington. The response was incredible! Can you believe that I’ve heard from 57 people willing to volunteer to shovel? 57! (That’s in addition to the 33 permanent volunteers who shovel for a particular person each time it snows– many of them were recruited through Front Porch Forum, too.) A large percentage of volunteers said they’d heard about the need through their neighborhood forum.

As of right now, every single elderly or disabled person in need of help that contacted OSS has been accommodated. And those I’ve yet to hear from will get help quickly. What a wonderful resource these forums are! Many, many thanks!

Angie Spong
The Center for Community and Neighborhoods

WCAX covered this story on the evening news too.


Fire and Police turn to FPF in Crisis

During the toughest stretch of our recent record-breaking blizzard, local police and fire departments turned to Front Porch Forum. Some examples:

1. Police could not spare the manpower to aid a stranded motorist out on East Ave. Sun was setting, temp was dropping, and snow was accumulating around this older gentleman. We responded by immediately calling about 300 households within a ten-minute walk.

2. In a similar case, a single mom reported that two elderly women on her block were snowed in and incommunicado. No signs of life from the outside… just snow drifted up and over the entryways. We notified about 75 nearby neighbors and asked for immediate help.

3. As the first of dozens of carbon monoxide emergencies showed up in Burlington, the Fire Department realized that snow was drifting over the outside vents of many residential gas-fired appliances causing CO backup and in many cases poisonings. Front Porch Forum broadcast the word the night of the storm and heard back things like…

After reading the message posted about clearing your vents I braved the outside at 11:30 PM and couldn’t even find my vent. I came back with my shovel and after poking around a bit I found it and cleared it… I’m sure I’ll have to do it every hour with the wind but thank you for the reminder!  -ONE West Neighborhood Forum