Sarah Leary spoke at TEDxSacramento’s City 2.0 back in September 2013. In her talk, she reminisced about a time when Americans not only knew who their neighbors were, but considered them to be their friends. As she grew older, Leary noticed a steady decline in neighborhood camaraderie. According to Robert Putnam, a Harvard Professor, “Social isolation has well documented side effects. Kids fail to thrive. Crime rises. Politics coarsens. Generosity shrivels.” In an effort to solve this problem, Leary created a social network called Nextdoor to help facilitate reconnecting communities across America.
To be honest, after watching Sarah speak, I felt guilty. Guilty for not even learning a single tenants’ name in my building after moving in six months ago. I have kept to myself and assumed that we must not have anything in common. But Sarah had reminded me in her talk of how good a community feels: it can offer support, advice, and friendship. After some self-reflection, I admittedly recognize that I know very little about Sacramento and its culture. I also recognize that I fell into many of the categories Sarah highlighted in her talk, specifically, being a part of the “28% of Americans [who] know none of their neighbors by name.”
No longer wanting to stay isolated, I took Sarah’s message to heart and decided to take action. I created my own Nextdoor profile in an attempt to reach out to my fellow Sacramentins and discover the hidden beauty of the neighborhood in which I have chosen to live in.
The format of Nextdoor is very similar to Facebook. It has a newsfeed, event postings, crime alerts and much more. The catch is, prior to creating your profile, you must verify that you are in fact a resident of a particular neighbor. This feature reassured me that I would be participating in a secure and trusted environment and made the experience feel more intimate.
Upon joining this network, I received many welcome notes from my neighbors. This simple gesture felt surprisingly nice, in that people were taking time out of their busy schedules to encourage new members like myself to participate. When I posed the question, “Where are good places to eat in Sacramento?” I received a couple of responses within a few hours. This relatively quick response from my neighbors was exciting because it signified an active and thoughtful community. I could literally see my neighborhood connecting with each other through this network in ways that would not have been possible in the past. I sensed there was an unspoken mutual obligation to help others when they needed suggestions or advice.
Another unique feature in Nextdoor that really helps to intertwine the community is a humble “thank” button. In exploring the interface, I noticed immediately the high usage of the “thank” button when someone posted a crime update or a new listing for an upcoming event. This button encourages everyone to be thankful for each other and to appreciate that all of us have advice to give, stories to share and lessons to learn.
Sarah Leary has inspired me to reach out to those around me and to discover what Sacramento is truly about. To those of you who are reading this, I recommend -- as your neighbor -- that you watch Sarah Leary’s TEDxSacramento talk to see for yourself what you have been missing.