Monthly Archives: June 2011

Are businesses part of neighborhood?

A neighbor recently complained about ads appearing on his Front Porch Forum.  Today another FPF member responded to their neighborhood forum…

I appreciate the recent note regarding business ads.  Here is another perspective:  As a small company operating out of the Old North End, I must say that an occasional notice from us regarding new or updated services is invaluable in getting our word out.  A neighborhood, it seems to me, is a combination of people, friends and families living and working locally in support of each other.  A neighborhood is, in part, defined by local businesses.  What would our neighborhood be like without our shops, farms, services, restaurants, and bakeries,  operated by people trying to make a living locally within their communities. Many of the small businesses I’m familiar with find it difficult to pay the going rate for advertising.  I believe Front Porch Forum has done a pretty good job of reaching a practical balance in this regard.

I’m curious about others thoughts!

Mark Bromley
One Revolution, Vermont Bikes at Work

Like a lively Town Meeting… FPF in Calais #VT

“How can you claim that Front Porch Forum builds community?  It’s mostly about lost cats, yard sales, and babysitters!”  So asked a professional from the world of community development and civic engagement.

Postings about car break-ins and plumber recommendations and the like are our bread and butter… no doubt.  But unlike some other online options, each posting on FPF comes from a clearly identified nearby neighbor.  Sampling a regular flow of very local news and conversation with not-anonymous neighbors over several months has a strange and wondrous cumulative effect.  In a way, each posting weaves a tiny strand, strengthening the local web of community.

People start to feel more connected to those around them after some FPF participation.  These members feel more plugged in and informed.  Their sense of ownership of place increases.  They often get more involved in the life of their neighborhood and town.

This doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes months.  And the foundation for all this is built on lost cat postings and pleas for babysitters!

Calais FPF has seen this the past week as online discussion sparked by a harsh critique of the conditions of the local unpaved roads and the Road Commission’s performance.  While this one resident took the Commission to task, others rushed to his defense.  This back and forth generated heat, but no “flame war” has erupted.  In fact, the latest batch of comments included a call to rally residents of this rural town for a work day.  That’s the ticket!

Here are excepts from some recent postings…

Let’s not worry too much about [the Road Commissioner]: he is a very mature guy and has probably had to suffer all this kind of criticism and worse while the condition of the roads was truly frightful. The letter was very strong admittedly, but also obviously sincere. And the “personal” parts really did relate to public duties. This Front Porch Forum democracy is better off for allowing such frankness even if it does cause discomfort, whether to the target or to FPF readers. It’s also worth keeping in mind that language that strong is likely to create more support that anything else for our beleaguered Road Commissioner.

And another…

You know, Front Porch Forum at times may sound more like a lively Town Meeting than neighbors talking while they rock on their front porches, but in the end we seem to have arrived at a pretty good place. [The critic] has been able to stick to his guns, and most of the rest of us have been able to appreciate the job that the Commissioner and crew have done in this incredible spring. I find that I no longer feel like saying “by all means, Tim, sell and leave” – which, I guess, is the point of having discussions.

And finally…

Two more cents worth on roads, FPF, and a longtime journalist’s perspective.

FPF is a medium that cuts both ways, as we discovered in the last week. It nicely serves to tie us together and keep us informed, and it can also split us apart. No different from anything else, such as town meeting where you get heated discussions, and yet the technology makes it different because it’s not face-to-face discussion and on the Internet I think folks tend to post with less forethought.

Is it monitored? Yes… the general theory is to not censor opinion, and since folks put their names to things and don’t post anonymously, the theory is that there is accountability and less inclination to personal attacks. So far it has worked pretty well: FPF is in some 50 Vermont towns and working as a model for high-tech community building.

I think what this roads discussion shows is that we are all accountable to use self-regulation and civility as a community, and perhaps more importantly, we must accept our own responsibility as citizens…

One thought is this, though folks on the selectboard have busy lives to lead and this adds one more task: Are you all members of FPF? FPF is a good place to address issues and weigh in in between bi-weekly meetings….

UPDATE: Mike Knutson weighed in about this post on Reimagine Rural.

Local Online News in #VT

Champlain College Publishing Initiative ran an interesting piece about local online news recently.  Writer Melinda Grey ends with…

As a foretaste of things to come, check out this remarkable link. It’s an item that was recently posted on our Front Porch Forum (speaking of hyperlocal) after yet another day of heavy rain and flooding in Burlington.

Is this the future of local news? And does this suggest that Front Porch Forum may be one model for the hyperlocal news medium of the future?

Her colleague Tim Brookes added…

… events have shown how prophetic Melinda’s observations were. One of the photos of the Booth Street flood we recommended (originally posted as a link on Front Porch Forum) showed up on the front cover of this week’s Seven Days.

This raises some fascinating questions. If a newsweekly picks up a photo from Front Porch Forum, doesn’t that identify the original item as being news, and thus, by implication, identify Front Porch Forum as a hyperlocal online news entity, at least in part? Does this imply that the world is full of sources of what might be called “raw” news, in the sense that reality TV uses security camera feeds as raw footage? It also suggests that this kind of reader-driven content is the print medium’s equivalent of “open source” material–but only up to a point…

Indeed, this kind of thing happens with Front Porch Forum nearly every week. A local citizen posts something on FPF to share with nearby neighbors and then one or more traditional media outlets pick it up and builds a story. We appreciate when the news outlets give proper attribution so their audience knows where they got the lead… but that occurs less than half the time.

As a 2010 Knight News Challenge award winner, FPF is increasingly seen as a new part of the local news and community conversation ecosystem… a quickly evolving environment.