As We See It

An app for neighbors brings a Downtown ‘hood together

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The Nextdoor application
Molly O'Donnell

It started with a stranger and a flier for yet another social media outlet. Sigh. But Nextdoor seemed like it might actually be useful. The San Francisco-based network is a free way to talk to your neighbors online, and in a Downtown ’hood where I was only beginning to meet fellow residents, Nextdoor dangled lemonade stands and free puppies in front of my overactive imagination.

At first the posts were banal—lost dogs, contractor recommendations—but soon the tone changed. “Is that guy selling corn on the cob on a stick?” someone posted, fanning the flames of a war over the corn and tamale vendors who plied our streets. Then posts began appearing that referenced “vacant houses,” “car burglary,” “break ins” and “gun shots,” transforming my disappointment at the platform’s antagonistic side into fear. Someone mentioned a town hall meeting at the Downtown Command Center’s monthly First Tuesday event, and I felt compelled to go.

Over 50 people showed, the highest turnout ever. There were women in hairnets, young professionals fresh from work and a mom bouncing a baby on her knee. Although we were there to ask for help with serious problems, some of us were just happy to feel like we were a part of a community, to bridge online connections into the real world.

As for our area’s Nextdoor page, I’ll keep in mind one neighbor’s warning that, like a police scanner, individual posts don’t tell the whole story. Still, recognizing local problems is motivating us to meet the folks across the street and form a neighborhood watch. I’m happy to read new posts thanking the police and arguing that “this movement is just starting.” I’m a part of a movement now. Take that, Ozzie and Harriet.

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