Strengthening neighborhoods with ... Facebook!

SHN group pic

Facebook gets a bad rap, but where I live, it has brought neighbors together, and it started because of the things I didn't want to share.

About five years ago, my high school class in Wisconsin was reuniting, which brought me dozens of new out-of-town Facebook Friends. I also had business clients in my Facebook circle, which made me reluctant to post questions like, "Why is there a helicopter circling my house?"

Not wanting to broadcast local questions or discuss school board candidates with everyone I knew, I started a neighborhood Facebook group with about 20 of my friends. They were encouraged to add their friends, as long as everyone was somehow connected to our zip code. Today, the group has nearly 2,000 people, and has become a fixture of life in my area; but we're not unique.

Neighborhoods around the country are using Facebook as a way to stay connected and help keep an eye on each other, as cited in this piece from The Mercury News, or the many Neighborhood Watch Twitter feeds.

The police in our area are not permitted to have an official account on our page, but there is anecdotal evidence that they follow it. Our Neighborhood Watch officer recommends Next Door which bills itself as, "The private social network for your neighborhood."

Beyond neighborhood watch, my community uses the page like a local referral service, and to discuss school issues, support small business, and welcome newcomers. We don't settle disputes among neighbors, and we don't decide who gets in and who doesn't. Along with my co-admin (I needed help after a while), the job is to lifeguard; keep away spammers, bot accounts, and personal insults, while maintaining a civil tone of "neighbors talking to neighbors."

This ongoing conversation is not without trivialities and drama, as people use the internet for different reasons, and personalities readily clash over the internet. What my neighbors and I have learned by doing this, is that it is not only very handy to ask your neighbors "Who's your handyman? (or chiropractor or favorite bagel place)" but it changes your relationship with where you live, even if all you're doing is attaching names to faces, and having a little chit-chat every now and then.