Some of us grew up with the notion that it’s impolite to talk about religion or politics in public… and some still feel this way. Others not. The issue comes up on Front Porch Forum every so often when postings about lost cats and plumber recommendations give way to points of view about the school budget or gubernatorial candidates. Here’s Steve’s take on the issue on his Burlington neighborhood forum where 90% of the 400 households subscribe to FPF…
After reading the reasonable and measured responses written by Mark and Jason to Maureen’s viewpoint on FPF usage, I was tempted to thank them both and let it go at that, but the more I thought about the subject, the more I wanted to add my two cents…
I’ve only lived in the Five Sisters for two years, but I’m grateful for the diversity of my neighbors and their opinions. And, as all who’ve met me can attest, I’m not reluctant to express my own. A community is defined by a collection of values, not always in agreement, but strengthened by the dynamics of discussion. The central purpose of government is to bring stability to society, but it is the responsibility of the governed to continuously question government policies, with regard to current social attitudes. If we shirk that responsibility, the government is no longer “of the people”. (remember those words?).
Using Front Porch Forum only to borrow rakes or find the best electrician trivializes its potential and our community. We don’t (or at least I don’t) live here because of our proximity to Lowes, or the many choices in refuse collection. Although these are necessary and useful parts of our lives, they are the trivial parts. Let’s try to identify what is important to each of us to make the world a better place and work within our community to advance our ideas, either locally or globally. To me respectful disagreement about philosophy and politics is preferable to a low key social facade that isolates each of us within our own bubbles of self-consistent rationale.
Jill Kiedaisch at the Orton Family Foundation offers good insights through her writing. So I was especially pleased to see her attention focused on Front Porch Forum this week. Here’s a tidbit (full post)…
But the coolest thing about FPF in my book is that it upends the assumed role of the Internet in our lives. It asserts that our online lives don’t have to be distinct from our offline lives—that they can merge in healthy, useful, positive, reciprocal ways. And even better than that, Front Porch Forum encourages us to reconnect with each other in person, tªte- -tªte, to have conversations and shake hands and share babysitters and roto-tillers and generally help each other out. It pulls us out of our digital isolation and pushes us back into our front yards and onto the street, out to the park or the playground or the farmer’s market or the local garage to see what’s going on, to remember who we are, and even who we want to be, as parents and friends and citizens. It helps us be neighbors.
The troubling results of a survey were released by Legal & General in the United Kingdom this week… Next Door Strangers. Here’s some expert commentary and sample press coverage. From the summary (my emphasis added)…
A survey of 2,000 British residents, covering a range of ages and geographic locations, revealed that more than one quarter (27%) of us say we “do not trust” our neighbours and most of us (59%) feel we neither have a lot in common with nor share the same values (44%) as them.
The report also found that the majority of British residents don’t know their neighbours’ names and wouldn’t recognise them if they passed them in the street (70%). According to the research, on average, we would only immediately recognise just over one in three (37%) of the people from our street.
British neighbourhoods are divided on values and sense of community and responsibility:
- More than a third (35%) of us don’t believe that we should have any responsibility for the safety or security of our neighbourhoods
- Nearly half (44%) don’t accept any responsibility for the safety or security of a neighbour’s property
- One in four (25%) of us admit we’d do nothing if we saw someone hanging around our neighbours’ home suspiciously, either out of fear, embarrassment or indifference
- The majority (61%) never socialise with their neighbours, not even occasionally
- Half of us (50%) do not even enjoy “spending time with” our neighbours.
In contrast to the traditional view of neighbourly duties, 42% of us would not trust our neighbours with our homes when we are not there and over one in three, (36%) when we are on holiday. 78% of respondents said they do not share keys with their neighbours.
This has clear implications for home security. Our findings indicate that people feel less responsibility for looking out for suspicious activity in their street, which, along with taking practical security measures, is one of the best ways of discouraging burglars.
I’d love to see this survey run in the United States… similar results to be expected? And then to see it run in Front Porch Forum‘s pilot service region… I’d wager the sense of community and involvement is significantly better. Also from the report…
Social networking online is the most modern form of socialising and getting to know people. Indeed, it seems some of the values of neighbourliness have shifted online. Many of us are now more ‘neighbourly’ with people on social networks than with those in our street: 34% of social networkers are ‘friends’ with or ‘follow’ people they’ve never met before on Facebook or Twitter but fewer than one in five (19%) are online friends with an actual real-world neighbour.
Only 8% have bothered to check if a neighbour is on a social network site.
But online tools are also a powerful and popular way of learning more about and engaging with your neighbourhood.
Quotation posted by Jillian on Front Porch Forum today…
It is easier to be a “humanitarian” than to render your own country its proper due; it is easier to be a “patriot” than to make your community a better place to live in; it is easier to be a “civic leader” than to treat your own family with loving understanding; for the smaller the focus of attention, the harder the task. —Sydney J. Harris
From Wayne in #BTV #VT…
I’m disappointed that each of the last three days someone has pulled down a campaign sign we had for Deb Markowitz in front of our house on North Prospect Street. Today, the sign was swiped. Regardless of who I (or you) support, this kind of political vandalism is disturbing and uncalled for. It’s very uncharacteristic of Burlington, and I hope if the person who did this is reading this message, they return the sign with an apology.
And minutes after getting the word out via FPF, he posted a follow-up with some good news…
Front Porch Forum postings work fast! My two missing Deb Markowitz signs were spotted next to a post office box on Loomis Street by State Rep. Kesha Ram after she saw my message on FPF. She graciously returned them, and told me that several of her campaign signs have also been swiped. Ripping out candidates’ signs or defacing them is just plain wrong and disrespectful. In any event, thanks Kesha!
Mention the Internet, and most people think of the World Wide Web, of reaching out across the globe for news, long-lost friends, or low-price bargains. But in dozens of Vermont towns, residents are using the web to connect with their back-fence 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.
My name is Michael Wood-Lewis, and my wife, Valerie, and I saw an opportunity four years ago and created Front Porch Forum (FPF) to serve our home region in northwest Vermont. Amazingly, nearly half of the state’s largest city now subscribes to FPF. The sense of community here is thriving and winning national recognition, including a 2010 Knight News Challenge award.
Creating Real Neighbors
It’s astounding what a couple minutes per day of neighborhood news and chatter in a person’s inbox can do. People tell me that they lived on their street for years not knowing a soul. Now, since Front Porch Forum kicked in, those familiar strangers have become real neighbors.
Each neighborhood has its own online space and the whole region is blanketed with a network of more than 100 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 area, people used FPF to find a pair of spooked horses who jumped their fence, then pitched in to build a better enclosure as a gift to the owners. In an urban neighborhood, residents rallied around a mother who was assaulted in the park, and eventually got the city to improve safety conditions there. And in a different community, a young family asked for a couple volunteers to help move their household into new digs across the street — 36 neighbors showed up! Not only was the job done quickly, but now this family knows three dozen people in the surrounding blocks.
“This small family business turns the Internet on its head,” says FPF member and University of Vermont associate 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, as the chat evolves into action. In one survey, an incredible nine out of ten FPF members report becoming more involved in local issues due to this free service.
“Front Porch Forum is a post-modern return to citizen democracy,” says Comerford. “This may well be the most important advance in community development strategies in decades.”
The Knight News Challenge award will allow us to rebuild FPF’s current proof-of-concept software to better provide for our subscribers. We’ll then expand to all 251 towns in Vermont, and prepare to offer Front Porch Forum to communities outside of Vermont in 2011.
I look forward to reporting on our progress here, and I hope to hear from readers in the comments below or via FPF’s website.
Question for FPF… why do you solicit funds from your subscribers? And, I thought you landed a grant recently.
FPF Response… The four employees of Front Porch Forum provide a free service to 20,000 Vermont households… this takes money. We raise most of those funds through ad sales to local Vermont businesses (thank you sponsors!). Much of the balance comes from voluntary member contributions. Please disregard the request if it’s not a fit for you. Some people get hundreds and even thousands of dollars of value out of FPF and they’re glad to contribute a fraction of that back our way to keep things running smoothly… but we don’t get that income unless we ask. Please consider pitching in!
And, yes, we did recently win a highly competitive Knight News Challenge award. Those funds, once received, will be used as one-time capital to rebuild our software to bring new features to our subscribers and allow us to expand to more communities (our existing software is constrained on these fronts). The Knight award is not intended to cover operating expenses incurred by our ongoing service.
Thanks to those who have asked. I hope FPF proves valuable to all our subscribers. This requires the help of many. Here’s how you can pitch in…
FPF’s mission is to help neighbors connect and build community. THANKS!!
… The benefit of friends, family and even colleagues turns out to be just as good for long-term survival as giving up a 15-cigarette-a-day smoking habit. And by the study’s numbers, interpersonal social networks are more crucial to physical health than exercising or beating obesity… The researchers analyzed results from 148 studies—which included a total of 308,849 participants—going back to the early 20th century…
Despite the hyperconnected era of Facebook friends and Blackberry messaging, social isolation is on the rise. More people than not report not having a single person they feel that they can confide in—up threefold from 20 years ago, the report authors noted…
… [regarding] digital social interactions, Holt-Lunstad says, “there are types of things you can get from an online friend, but there are other resources that you cannot.” Although online connections “might be better than nothing,” substituting time in front of a screen is likely not as beneficial as a phone call or face-to-face conversation…
I’d like to see a study along these lines of the health benefits of knowing and communicating with the neighbors.