A national TV news show asked for a thumbnail sketch of FPF recently, so here’s what we sent…
Neighbors turn the Internet on its head to build vibrant community
Mention the internet, and most people think of the WORLD wide web… reaching out across the globe for news, long-lost friends, or low-price bargains. But in Burlington, VT, residents are using the web to connect with… their backfence neighbors. In an era where national and global information is broadly available online, it seems that few of us know our neighbors and what’s going on down the street. Husband and wife Michael and Valerie Wood-Lewis saw an opportunity three years ago and created FrontPorchForum.com to serve their city. Amazingly, 40% of the state’s largest city subscribes and the sense of community there is thriving and winning national awards (see below).
“It’s astounding what a couple minutes a day of neighborhood news and chatter in my inbox has done,” says co-founder Michael Wood-Lewis. “People tell me that they lived on their street for ten years not knowing a soul. Now, since Front Porch Forum (FPF) kicked in, those familiar strangers have become real neighbors.”
Each neighborhood has its own online forum and the whole region is blanketed with a network of 130 neighborhood forums. People post about lost pets, block parties, car break-ins, plumber recommendations, helping ailing neighbors, local politics, school plays and much more. All ages partake… from seniors in their 80s seeking community support to stay in their homes… to teenagers looking for summer jobs.
In one rural neighborhood, people used FPF to find a pair of lost horses, then pitched in to build a better enclosure for the owners. In an urban neighborhood, the residents rallied around a mother who was assaulted in their park, and eventually got the city to improve safety conditions there. And in a different community, a young family asked for a couple helpers to move their household into new digs across the street… 36 people showed up! Not only was the job done quickly, but now this family knows three dozen neighbors.
“This small family business turns the internet on its head,” says FPF member and University of Vermont Assoc. Dean Susan A. Comerford. “The web offers countless ways to waste time, but Front Porch Forum actually pushes people offline and onto the sidewalks to chat with neighbors, face to face.” And that leads people to get more involved in their communities. An incredible 93% of FPF members report becoming more civically engaged due to this free service.
“Front Porch Forum is a postmodern return to citizen democracy,” opines Comerford. “This may well be the most important advance in community development strategies in decades.”
Accolades for Front Porch Forum
- PBS MediaShift: Named FPF one of three national “great experiments around local news,” 2008.
- Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy: Featured FPF at inaugural meeting, 2008.
- Case Foundation: Placed FPF sixth out of nearly 5,000 “participatory democracy” projects, 2008.
- American Press Institute: Featured FPF in seminar about cultivating local online conversation, 2008.
- Rural Telecom Congress: Annual Champion Award, and People’s Choice Award – Most Innovative, 2008.
- Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Sunlight Foundation: Featured FPF as local online innovation at conference, 2007.
- Orton Family Foundation and PlaceMatters: National Innovator in Place Award, 2007.
- Personal Democracy Forum: Featured FPF as a local online democracy tool, 2007.
- National Night Out: Neighborhood watch award from South Burlington, VT, 2007.
- Cottage Living Magazine: FPF flagship named a “top ten” neighborhood in the United States, 2006.
- Wall Street Journal, PBS, Morning Edition, many blogs, and nearly all local traditional media in pilot area covered FPF.
Front Porch Forum