Posted on Thursday, July 21, 2011 by Michael
Can virtual tools build real community? (#BTV #VT) Wayne Senville of the Planning Commissioner’s Journal takes a look on the Project for Public Spaces blog today. In part…
Neighborhood gathering places like coffee shops, diners, and post offices have long been a cornerstone to community life in America… For years, a common sight outside many of these places was the message board, where neighbors left word about a missing dog, a yard sale, an apartment to rent, a community meeting and where candidates for city council, alderman, school board, or mayor placed their campaign posters. But fast forward to 2011. Email and Facebook is where we often “talk.” Many bemoan this, feeling it has weakened civic life and resulted in a loss of connection within our neighborhoods. And, yes, count me among those who’ve made such claims.
Yet something quite remarkable has emerged in Burlington and other Vermont towns. A locally-developed… service, called Front Porch Forum, has established itself as the key way many residents now keep in touch with neighborhood concerns: by posting announcements, notices, offers of help, requests for help and also debating a variety of local issues.
Valerie and Michael Wood-Lewis started up the precursor to today’s Front Porch Forum (FPF) in their own small “Five Sisters” neighborhood five years ago. Their mission was and remains: “to help neighbors connect and foster community within the neighborhood.” In 2007, the Orton Foundation recognized the Front Porch Forum with its 2007 Innovator in Place Award.
FPF has exploded in popularity. Remarkably, more than 50 percent of Burlington (pop. 40,000) households subscribe to FPF! … Front Porch has become the “place” people think of first when looking to find out what’s happening in their neighborhood, or to post an announcement…
Michael Wood-Lewis: Front Porch Forum is used frequently by residents to announce, discuss and organize for or against development projects Williston landfill, Southern Connector, Circ highway, Moran plant, Appletree Point senior housing, on and on. FPF gets dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people tuned into planning-related issues. It should be noted, that after Town Meeting, the postings reverted back toward FPF’s bread and butter lost cat, seeking apartment, car break-in report, etc. FPF members talk about feeling an increased sense of community ownership. A survey found that 45% of respondents reported “speaking up or getting involved on any public or policy issue as a result of subscribing to Front Porch Forum.”…
… Front Porch Forum can actually increase citizen interest in local government meetings and public involvement. For example, [here is a] comment from a steering committee member on one of Burlington’s neighborhood organizations: “We had a great turn out at the Neighborhood Planning Assembly meeting this past week — 80 plus people and almost all of them are on the Front Porch Forum. We have had three great meetings with numbers above 50 this fall thanks to… Front Porch Forum.”
Posted in: Burlington, Civic Engagement, Community Building, Democracy, Front Porch Forum, Knight Foundation, MacArthur Fellows, Media, Neighborhood, social capital, Social Networking, Vermont