#BTV #VT – Sarah’s got a fascinating blog revving up at LocalvoreToday…
There’s no disputing that humans are social animals, although these days we often don’t get enough social interaction. For those fortunate enough to live in communities with close networks of friends, neighbors, and relatives, the benefits to physical and mental health can be astonishing. Most of us intuitively know that having strong social ties are a good thing, but a growing body of research has shown that the correlation between overallmental and physical health and feeling connected with friends, family, and neighbors is much stronger than one would think. The same is true on a community level. Communities with strong social ties often report less crime, more civic engagement, and higher property values, to name a few of the benefits.
But this day in age, it’s difficult for people in many communities to know how to foster that sense of connection. Our time is too often taken up by activities that are contrary to fostering social engagement, including driving, eating alone (and often in our cars), and watching t.v. In the age of Facebook, ironically, Americans report having only two close friends, a drop from three in 1985. And Americans report consistantly that they are less happy““thanks in large part to decreased social capital. Even for folks who recognize the problems with these declines, it can often be difficult to find a resource for bringing folks together.
That’s where a website like Front Porch Forum becomes important… I myself had used FPF only in a work-related capacity, so I was eager to try it out on my own time. After typing in my street address, I was welcomed into the Buell Neighborhood Forum… [it] currently has 559 members, serves 750 households, and has had 777 messages posted since it began.
Each “issue” of FPF posts roughly every three days, with moderators involved in the process. In that way, FPF differs from a service like Craigslist in that it does not consist of anonymous posters publishing information over the internet; rather, it is the full names of people in my community posting information specific to my neighborhood. On my first tour through FPF, I was surprised to see the amount of postings dedicated to civic matters that I otherwise may have been unaware of. I also quickly learned that a meeting was being held along with a free public dinner to discuss plans to rebuild a recently burned-down building in my neighborhood.
For all the great qualities of Facebook, with which I can connect to distant friends and acquaintances from a world away, FPF quickly proved its effectiveness at fostering true community engagement. And in a world in which real social connections seem harder to come by, a service like Front Porch Forum may be increasingly important.
And her next posting extends her thinking…
We live in a culture obsessed with health… But what if there’s more to health than just diet and exercise? What if the strength of the communities we inhabit have, perhaps, more to do with our health than any other factor? And what if, even in the face of a high-fat diet and less-than-stellar lifestyle choices, you still find that where you live has more to do with your overall health than anything else?
In the preface to this book, Gladwell looks at the unique case of Roseto, Pennsylvania, a town that in the late 1950″²s came under the scrutiny of Dr. Stewart Wolf. Wolf took notice of an anomaly in the statistics regarding the town’s health: for men over 65, the death rate from heart disease was half that of the rest of the U.S., and while at the time heart attacks were the leading cause of death for men under 55, virtually no male in that age group from Roseto suffered from heart-related problems. And across the board, the death rates from all other causes in Roseto were markedly lower than they should have been. It was a community without suicide, alcoholism, or drug problems. The crime rate was very low. This little town of about 2,000 in Pennsylvania represented a statistical anomaly that flew in the face of the common medicinal thought of the time.
Intrigued, Dr. Wolf got to work studying the people of the town. He examined people across the U.S. hailing from the same region of Italy as Roseto’s residents, and found that whatever made Rosetans special, it wasn’t in their genes. He looked at the food they ate, which consisted mainly of a high-fat diet of pizza, pastas, and Italian pastries, much of it cooked in lard. He looked at their lifestyles and rates of exercise, but those gave no clues; by all accounts the Rosetans lived lifestyles no healthier than their neighbors.
The one factor that seemed to differentiate Roseto’s residents is that they lived in an intensely close-knit community. Having immigrated from the same region of Italy beginning in 1882, the Rosetans built a town largely insular from neighboring communities… In any one house in Roseto, multiple generations of family members lived under the same roof. Neighbors cooked dinners for each other, stopped for long conversations in the streets, and on Sundays attended Mass as a community. During the days the men of the town went to work together in the slate quarries while the women worked in blouse mills. The Rosetans had been successful in transplanting the culture of their native Southern Italy to Eastern Pennyslvania, creating a town that was uniquely supportive of its community members and shielding its residents from the modern mental ailments of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. This appeared to translate into overall physical well-being, despite factors like genetics, diet, and exercise.
This example of an outlier is so intriguing because it truly illustrates the power of community to shape us. In my last blog post, I looked at some of the data demonstrating that Americans are largely less happy than in years past, reporting fewer close friends and residing in less cohesive communities. I looked at how a website like Front Porch Forum works to foster stronger community relations by connecting neighbors and spurring civic engagement. In Vermont, where close-knit communities are more the norm than in many other parts of the country, it is important that we continue to work to make our communities that much stronger. That means supporting local businesses when we can, buying food from our local farmers, and supporting local artists, artisans, musicians, and others in our communities…
You have made my life shine through Front Porch Forum. I have met people, some of my own neighbors. We have bought things, received free things, have new customers for our cord wood business. Bless you all… this is so amazing. My husband has lived here all his 56 years. I have been here for 33 years. We have ALL lost touch with each other. Let the love shine!
#VT – Exciting news! Front Porch Forum is now available in Waterbury and Duxbury, Vermont. Already 100 neighbors have signed up in Waterbury and another 50 in Duxbury!
Given the twin blows of Hurricane Irene and the State Office Complex pull-out, we’ve been working hard with a number of partners to find a way to start serving these communities. A special thanks to Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, Revitalizing Waterbury, Town of Duxbury, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, and a number of individuals for getting it done.
Now comes the fun part! Please spread the word and encourage any and all in Waterbury and Duxbury to sign up at FrontPorchForum.com
FPF is now available in 70 Vermont towns. Here’s the list of towns.
#VT – Powerful conversations among neighbors going on these days. Here’s a sample posted by Guy to the Cambridge Front Porch Forum today…
Today’s Burlington Free Press had a thoughtful article on a declining middle class, as exemplified by a Jeffersonville family… My impressions:
1) Good for my Cambridge village neighbor Mike Moser for providing factual background and context for the story. As someone involved in helping Vermonters discuss important policy issues, I have found that the more relevant facts I have, the better. Sounds obvious but it is remarkable how easily I go straight to interpretation and opinion when what I really need is more information.
2) As I read it I said “thank God for my job” because just three years ago that’s where I was, working three iffy jobs to unsuccessfully scrape together enough money to pay the bills. My family and church communities were helpful in every way when I asked them, but what I really needed is what I finally got – a good paying job. This job gave my wife a good last two years of her life in more ways than one. Sometimes I think that government and non-profits would help people more if they would focus more on simply letting the job creators do their thing. Local applications of this might be – sorry if I offend – saying “no” a little less reflexively to new business proposals. I know there are tradeoffs, but as we weigh the pros and cons in our own minds and in forums like this, perhaps the life-saving creation of a few good jobs should count a little more.
3) As I read it I also said “thank God for the safety net” beyond church and family that provided health care and yes even food at the most difficult times. I made perhaps 10 visits to Lamoille County food shelfs back in the dark old days, swallowing my pride because it was my job to provide, and when my labor wasn’t enough, then my willingness to ask would have to suffice. It was hard, but it was made easier by the welcoming attitude of the staff, as well as by their willingness to make distinctions between food for the really needy (basic, locally donated foods bought with donated cash) and the less-in-demand grocery store perishables, and then finally the federal commodities. What also made it easier was, frankly, going to other towns. I simply don’t know if I could have gone to a Cambridge food shelf. It was so much less humiliating to go to Morrisville, and that has nothing to do with their attitude and everything to do with my vanity. It is a big step to go from feeling compassion for one of “them” to actually being one of “them”. I apologize if I sound politically incorrect, but that is how it felt. So I would recommend that food shelves not be in the least bit territorial. If someone lives in another town, there is a reason they go elsewhere, unless of course they just don’t know. One can say “you shouldn’t feel that way” but – I did, and I suspect others might also.
So, what can we do to help our underemployed neighbors? In a nutshell, here are three things I can think of, maybe you have ideas too: be more open to local job creation; buy services locally; and support the local safety net. FPF is a great tool for doing all three, but it’s up to us as individuals and as a community to go the extra mile, as a great man once said.
By the way, more than 40% of Cambridge households are FPF members.
Dave in Bristol #VT just shared this nugget. He had a trampoline he was looking to unload. He listed it on Craigslist Vermont for a month… no calls. Almost immediately after posting it on the Bristol Front Porch Forum he heard from seven neighbors!
I wish I had 7 to give away after the responses in the first hours after posting.
We hear this kind of thing again and again. FPF can be a super-effective way to buy, sell, give away, etc. The big differentiator… your posting reaches people who are not actively looking for what you have/want. But when they read your FPF posting, some of them think… “Yeah… I’d love a trampoline!”
From Sue in Moretown #VT today…
Thank you Front Porch Forum for connecting me with a Forum member who cleaned my gutters and swept my garage roof. So nice to meet a neighbor in the process.
That’s FPF in a nutshell. Get something checked off your to-do list… and meet a neighbor in the process. Our aim is to help neighbors connect and build community. It happens one small exchange at a time… online and face-to-face.
As a friend said recently… “So much of the Internet feels like a fire hose of information, but FPF is like slow-drip irrigation.” I’m not sure how I feel about being compared to a soaker hose… guess we’ve been called worse. 😉
#VT – A posting by Tracy on the Charlotte Front Porch Forum caught my attention last week…
Hi neighbors. Many of you know our daughter, who is now a freshman at CVU high school. She’s tentatively scheduled for surgery on November 4th and will be in a wheelchair with her leg out straight for 6-8 weeks.
Are there any individuals, groups, or organizations out there who might be available to help us design and build a ramp to get her into and out of our home? Time is of the essence, we may need a permit, there are codes that need to be met, and our finances are limited because much of the medical care and rehabilitation will not be covered through insurance. At least, these are the things we’re thinking… but this is all new terrain for us.
Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks so much!
Today’s follow-up by her was titled Appreciation Abounds!
A huge thanks to everyone who responded to our posting about building a ramp in preparation for our daughter’s impending surgery! We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of helpful suggestions, tips, and offers of support and are happy to announce that even though surgery was moved ahead by a week, our daughter is now home, recovering beautifully, and is easily able to get into and out of our home via the new ramp. Special thanks to Dave and Micheline, Rice Lumber, and to our former neighbor, Don. Once a Charlotter, always a Charlotter!
#BTV #VT – Host Judy Simpson interviewed Susan Clark and myself about Front Porch Forum and e-Vermont on Across the Fence on WCAX this month (10/20/2011). Susan is the Town Moderator in Middlesex and an expert on Town Meeting in Vermont. Here’s the video…
#BTV #VT – I don’t think of myself as a blogger, yet this blog turns five years old today… guess it kinda snuck up on me. Hard to imagine I’ve written 1,150 postings over that time. I started blogging a month or two after launching Front Porch Forum, which now has 30,000 households participating, including half of Burlington.
Thanks to the blog’s many regular readers. Our frequent back-and-forth (mostly off-blog) about the quickly heating up “neighbor conversation” online space is fascinating. Dozens of start-ups are now aiming to help neighbors connect. We’re glad for the company. I invite more of them to contribute to the field by frequently blogging about what they’re learning. Hosting sustainable neighborly online discussions across many neighborhoods is not trivial!
Many of the pundits who focus on adjacent spaces — hyperlocal journalism, social networking, daily deals, etc. — are slowly waking to the staggering potential of online neighborhoods. We’ve seen it first hand in our super successful pilot. Neighbors, local businesses, public officials, nonprofits… they all flock to Front Porch Forum and put it to excellent use.
There’s monster demand across North America for connection to place and neighbors. The opposite — which too many of us experience now — is untenable… living with a neutered sense of community, being surrounded by strangers for years on end, not knowing what’s going on in the neighborhood, not feeling a sense of ownership of your place. Ugh.
Here’s to the next five years!
Congratulations to Nirav Tolia and his team at Nextdoor.com. After a year of testing, they lifted the cover from their new service this week. We welcome another player into the “neighbor conversation” online space. They join Whitepages.com’s Neighbors, MSNBC.com’s Everyblock, and about 20 other start-ups working to help neighbors connect.
Will they get traction? Will they generate significant revenue? To the first point, many efforts in this space seem a mile wide and an inch deep with broad reach and little traction. To the second… in Nextdoor’s case, they’re not trying yet.
This is in stark contrast to Front Porch Forum which has incredible particpation, albeit in a single region. Half of Vermont’s largest city participates in FPF. And they aren’t just lurkers. Whereas much of social media content is provided by a slim 1-10% of users, on FPF a majority of our members speak up… and the tone is consistently neighborly. Also, we’re seeing great results with our recently launched neighborhood-specific advertising system for local businesses.
Front Porch Forum has given me information, income, and, best of all, the first real feeling of connection to this town after living here for 22 years!– Anne Howland, Middlesex, VT, FPF member
FPF’s super-charged level of engagement doesn’t come easy. Many players in the neighbor-conversation space will fail because they’ll substitute tech bells and whistles for real understanding of the social demand that they’re trying to meet… or because they’ll scale too fast and thin.
Achieving critical mass in hundreds of nearby small online neighborhood groups AND getting folks to stick around for years AND speak up AND keep it civil… this is hard stuff. And this is what FPF is doing successfully now across one-third of Vermont. We’ve developed a complex and nuanced system that we’re pushing from our seasoned staff into our code base as we approach scaling.
Commentary about the Nextdoor launch…