Category Archives: neighborhood

Nextdoor and NYC team up to enhance neighboring



I’ve written in the past about efforts to use 21st century technological tools to enhance neighbors’ connections with each other, the sort that are far less common today than in the 1960s or 1970s.

Nextdoor, a leader in this space, has partnered with NYC Mayor  Bloomberg to provide Nextdoor services in 1800 existing NYC neighborhoods.  It’s a win-win partnership.  The city gets a platform that enables them to pinpoint messages that need to get out to certain neighborhoods (such as upcoming events, programs, news, emergency bulletins), and NYC through NYCGov will let New Yorkers know how they can better connect with their neighbors through the Nextdoor platform.  (These Nextdoor networks are secure so users have to verify they actually live in a neighborhood to join and users get to control what of this information is public and what is shared privately between neighbors.)

Nextdoor makes it far easier to share information with neighbors (on mobile phones or computers), whether it is about a community issue, or finding a good painter or babysitter, or setting up a block party, or providing other advice or recommendations.  Nextdoor is also an example of what Bob Putnam and I call “alloy” social capital that combines virtual and face-to-face elements.  We believe that alloy connections are stronger than either the purely virtual social connections in an online gaming community (for instance) and also stronger than purely face-to-face connections.  The platform of Nextdoor also makes it more likely that one will meet new neighbors when one follows up on a e-post by inviting a neighbor to coffee, or start waving to or talking with a neighbor who one previously passed silently.  And for neighborly relations that already exist, Nextdoor can help strengthen them by increasing the frequency with which one connects with neighbors.

See earlier post about Nextdoor here.

The Nextdoor-NYC announcement, builds on similar announcements with 120 city governments over the last 12 months including cities like San Jose, Denver,  Dallas or San Diego.  New York City is an iconic city of 8.3 million people and this agreement offers the potential to unlock a lot of social capital so we’ll watch this with bated breath and hope that many other cities will follow NYC’s lead.

It will be interesting down the road to plot out the rise of Nextdoor usage by neighborhood with its impact on social capital measures (e.g., trust of neighbor or borrowing/lending from neighbors) and on putative downstream measures (such as lower crime rate, from the higher level of e-”eyes on the street” to transmute Jane Jacobs‘ pearl of wisdom into the digital age.

See earlier Social Capital blog post on Nextdoor.

See Wired story about this collaboaration of Nextdoor and NYC.

Nextdoor: e-neighborhood networks


Sarah Leary,

I had an interesting conversation with Sarah Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor.

Sarah comes from having worked at epinions (with the other Nextdoor co-founder Nirav Tolia) and discovering how one could capture reputation and trustworthiness online (in terms of ratings) and how people thirsted to compete with one another to be helpful in their comments.

Nextdoor is now trying to localize social networks.  [A bit more at the bottom of this earlier blog post.]

Nextdoor’s approach is as follows:

1. Individual social entrepreneurs can apply to launch Nextdoor in a community.

2. The social entrepreneur fills out an application form and if he/she looks like they are serious about this and well integrated in the neighborhoods, they are invited to proceed.

3. The social entrepreneur self-defines their community (using tools that make it easy to incorporate parcels, census blocks, etc.).  Ideally a community is between 50 and 200 households.  And they are not allowed to choose geography that is already part of another active Nextdoor community.  And the social entrepreneur invites his/her friends to join.

4. The Nextdoor community is in a pilot period for 21 days, and if there are not 10 active users by then, the site goes dark and users are told that the site hasn’t achieved sufficient momentum.

4. Anyone joining can see a map of the “neighborhood” and see which houses have or have not already joined. Those on the site have the power to invite others in their neighborhood to join the site (by e-mail, postcard, etc.).  A lot of their growth comes from strong word-of-mouth.

They launched in October 2011 and are already in 2100 communities nationwide.  Surprisingly, they have found that in order for sites to be viable, it is less important that they get to some percentage penetration of the community but to get to a surprisingly small number of active users.

All users are verified (by phone, by postcard, by address from a credit card, or by neighbor confirmation) that they are in the relevant neighborhood.

As one would expect from social capital theory, they find that people do in general behave surprisingly civilly.  [This because participants are highly likely to encounter each other off-line, and those behaving dishonestly are likely to be ostracized or  sanctioned.]

Their original motivation for starting the site was to get individuals involved in civic issues, but they found that much of what people wanted to do was discuss crime, or get recommendations, or find local people to sell something.  But their anecdotal experience is that these exchanges help forge the social networks that can be activated when civic issues arise.  Moreover, they believe that these transactions help reinforce generalized trust of participants in their neighbors.

We’ll look forward to hearing about their lessons and what works well or doesn’t.  Obviously, it would be great if they and others succeed in building stronger neighborhood engagement for all the reasons noted in Bowling Alone: better health, lower crime rates, better performing schools and governments, and happier residents.

It remains to be seen what lessons they learn about how online social connections can be maximally used to spur and reinforce face-to-face connections as well.

Increasing US urban residential segregation and decline of middle-class communities

Flickr photo by OldOnliner

A new report by Kendra Bischoff and Sean Reardon for the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University found that, as a likely consequence of widening American income inequality, fewer and fewer Americans  live in urban middle-class neighborhoods and urban communities are instead increasingly polarized into rich and poor neighborhoods.  They call this increased “income segregation” or “family income segregation.”  Their report studies 117 metropolitan areas with a population of 500,000 or more in 2007 and examines these patterns at the census tract level, covering roughly two thirds of the US population.

This is bad news for the opportunity to build bridging social capital (social ties across race or social class), bad for building any sense that we’re all in this together, and by insulating the rich increasingly from the poor, makes it less likely that the rich will want to take action to help the poor (in the same way as the rich become less interested in public education investment if they send their kids to private schools or become less interested in safe streets if they live in a gated community with a private police force).  This research shows how children are less likely to grow up socializing with and playing with children of other socio-economic backgrounds, especially in an era where mandatory school-busing has come under attack.

These trends are all prior to the 2008 great recession, so it is impossible until 2013 to know whether that exacerbated these patterns or ameliorated them somewhat, and even then we probably won’t know about specific neighborhoods.

Bischoff points out that these segregation indices would change during the recession only if foreclosures or job losses force people to move, then income segregation could change.  For instance, if low- and moderate- income families need to move to lower-income neighborhoods, urban residential segregation would increase (more clustering).  Alternatively, if middle income families lose income, but remain in their homes (or neighborhoods), then residential income segregation would decrease as neighborhoods as increased family income volatility leads neighborhoods to become more diverse in income terms. The American Community Survey may never be able to resolve what happened at low levels of geography.


As overall income inequality grew in the last four decades, high- and low-income families have become increasingly less likely to live near one another. Mixed income neighborhoods have grown rarer, while affluent and poor neighborhoods have grown much more common. In fact, the share of the population in large and moderate-sized metropolitan areas who live in the poorest and most affluent neighborhoods has more than doubled since 1970, while the share of families living in middle-income neighborhoods dropped from 65 percent to 44 percent. The residential isolation of the both poor and affluent families has grown over the last four decades, though affluent families have been generally more residentially isolated than poor families during this period. Income segregation among African Americans and Hispanics grew more rapidly than among non-Hispanic whites, especially since 2000. These trends are consequential because people are affected by the character of the local areas in which they live. The increasing concentration of income and wealth (and therefore of resources such as schools, parks, and public services) in a small number of neighborhoods results in greater disadvantages for the remaining neighborhoods where low- and middle-income families live.

Key findings, based on Census American Community Survey data:

  • From 2000 to 2007, family income segregation grew significantly in almost all metropolitan areas (in 89 percent of the large and moderate-sized metropolitan areas). This extends a trend over the period 1970-2000 during which income segregation grew dramatically. In 1970 only 15 percent of families were in neighborhoods that we classify as either affluent (neighborhoods where median incomes were greater than 150 percent of median income in their metropolitan areas) or poor (neighborhoods where median incomes were less than 67 percent of metropolitan median income). By 2007, 31 percent of families lived in such
  • The affluent are more segregated from other Americans than the poor are. That is, high-income families are much less likely to live in neighborhoods with middle- and low-income families than low-income families are to live in neighborhoods with middle- and high-income families. This has been true for the last 40 years.
  • Income segregation among black and Hispanic families increased much more than did income segregation among white families from 1970 to 2007. Notably, income segregation among black and Hispanic families grew very sharply from 2000 to 2007. Income segregation among black and Hispanic families is now much higher than among white families.

Read “Growth in the Residential Segregation of Families by Income, 1970-2009” (Sean Reardon, Kendra Bischoff).

See NY Times story, “Middle-Class Areas Shrink as Income Gap Grows, New Report Finds” (11/16/11, by Sabrina Tavernise) which also shows this pattern for Philadelphia, which showed the biggest increase in income segregation over this period as well as the overall decline in middle-class neighborhoods and the rise of poor neighborhoods.

See earlier blog post: “Stalled upward social mobility in the US”

See somewhat related post by Liberty Street Economics (the blog of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) that shows both that median wages were growing fastest in the high-skilled occupations, and also that job growth was fastest in both the high-skilled and low-skilled occupations and slowest in middle-class job occupation.

Sleeping with your neighbors

Well, sleeping AT your neighbors, anyway.

Peter Lovenheim had an interesting NYT Op-Ed this June called *Won’t You Be My Neighbor?*.  Spurred on by the shocking double murder-suicide of some neighbors of his whom he didn’t know, he started a project (which his teenager daughter rolled her eyes at) to try to persuade his neighbors to let him do adult sleepovers with them, and in the process build up relationships and trust.  Initially neighbors were distrustful, but now half of the roughly twenty neighbors he’s asked have said yes.

It’s a very moving story.  One wonders whether a block party or informal social gathering might not have been an easier place to begin, but it’s hard to knock his integrity and motivation.  Lovenheim hopes that if something horrible like his neighbors’ dual murder-suicide would ever be likely to occur again, he’ll be in the know and possibly able to nip it in the bud.

How often neighborhoods lie one catalyst away from being reconnected.  A college roommate of mine single-handledly revived a neighborhood he lived in by resuscitating a social club, doing odd jobs free for neighbors, asking to borrow tools (or lending them).  One hears many other stories of people who revived neighborhoods through street watches, or urban gardens, or babysitting cooperatives.  As Paul Resnick (of the Saguaro Seminar) suggested, better to ask a favor of neighbors than to wait for them to ask; and by asking for a favor you invite others to ask one of you.

So here’s to the Peter Lovenheims of the U.S. May there be many more and may it not take a tragic death or emergency in your neighborhood to awaken you for the need of these precious ties.  The social disconnection is not always as fatal as it was in *Dying Alone* (where Eric Klinenberg describes how the ones who perished in Chicago’s Heat Wave of 1995 were almost always socially isolated), but there is a heap of sociological and public health literature detailing the more invisible cost to those who are isolated (less happy, less healthy, harder time finding jobs, homes more likely to be broken into, etc.).

Read the Lovenheim Op-Ed here and comments here.

For a list of things you can to do promote neighborliness (short of sleeping over at someone’s house) see 150 Things you can do to build social capital.

Video spoof of e-harmony called e-neighbor

Keith Hampton alerted me to this one.

I hope that Vivek Hutheesing of rBlock and Keith (of i-neighbors), who both have created very useful software to help us meet and get to know our neighbors, are not taking this personally. As people in the ad business say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Netherlands study also finds diversity challenging for social capital in short-term

Confirming one portion of Robert Putnam’s much discussed *E Pluribus Unum* study, a researcher (Jaap Dronkers, Chair of the Social Stratification and Inequality Program at the European University Institute in the
Department of Political and Social Sciences, Italy) found similar results to Putnam’s in the Netherlands — that diversity poses challenges for social capital. [Putnam's *E Pluribus Unum* article also discussed the manifold benefits of diversity and discussed strategies for building stronger bonds over the longer-term through this diversity and optimism that we could do so.]

Abstract of paper: “Putnam (2007) claims that in the short run ethnic diversity tends to reduce solidarity and social capital: in ethnically diverse neighborhoods, residents of all ethnicities tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even in one’s own ethnic group) is lower, altruism and community cooperation is more rare, friends fewer. This study replicates Putnam’s analysis for a West-European country. Furthermore, by including the ethnicity of the respondent’s neighbors, a sub-neighborhood level measure of ethnic diversity is added to the analyses. With data from the Netherlands (N=5,757), using multi-level regression, we confirm Putnam’s claim and find that both for immigrants and native residents 1) neighborhoods’ ethnic diversity reduces individual trust in neighborhoods; 2) those with neighbors of a different ethnicity have less trust in neighborhoods and neighbors 3) a substantial part of the effect of neighborhoods’ ethnic diversity on individual trust can be explained by the higher propensity of having neighbors of a different ethnicity. We conclude that ethnic diversity can have a negative effect on individual trust. However, we do not find these negative effects of neighborhoods’ or neighbors ethnic diversity on inter-ethnic trust.”  Jaap Dronkers et al. focused on Netherlands since these were the only data within the European Union that they knew of that contained both a measurement of individual trust and the zip code or census tract of the respondent.

Here is direct link to the paper “Ethnic diversity in neighbourhoods and individual trust of immigrants and natives: A replication of Putnam (2007) in a West-European country.”

While we have not seen the results, we have been told that UK data from the Home Office Citizenship Survey (now called the Citizenship Survey) also shows a strongly significant relationship between respondent’s trust of neighbors (regardless of their race) and ethnic diversity of the neighborhood, controlling for all the standard controls at the individual and neighborhood level.

Note: some European studies recently assert to find contrary findings to Putnam’s “E Pluribus Unum” article, but are completely inapposite. Since information on the diversity of various neighborhoods is very hard to come by, many studies erroneously simply substitute a “national” level of diversity. See: Marc Hooghe et al (Ethnic Diversity, Trust and Ethnocentrism and Europe. A Multilevel Analysis of 21 European Countries“) or the erroneously titled “‘Ethnic diversity and social capital in Europe: tests of Putnam’s thesis in European countries” (Forthcoming in Scandinavian Political Studies) by Dutch sociologists Peer Scheepers, Maurice Gesthuizen and Tom van der Meer (Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands). The problems in the Hooghe and Scheepers papers of using “national level” diversity as the control variable can be seen when applied to the U.S. context. It would be like assuming that South Dakota, Spanish Harlem, Houston and Beverly Hills all have equal levels of neighborhood diversity in the U.S. Since many countries exhibit different patterns of micro-level integration or segregation one can understand how the national average is an extremely noisy measure of neighborhood diversity. And it seems quite likely that the true relationship between social capital and diversity can’t be seen through all the noise of the resulting national measure. These papers may have interesting things to say, but they can’t have meaningful things to say about whether the “E Pluribus Unum” findings apply to other European countries, which is why the above paper on the Netherlands by the Italian researchers that is referenced at the top of this post is far more relevant to this debate.

The promise or peril of neighborhood listserves

Are you being listserved?(Financial Times, 5/11/07, Holly Yeager) on the social capital impact of listserves, including quotes from Keith Hampton about their general effectiveness.  [Results from Keith's e-neighbors experiment on this topic will be printed in Neighborhoods in the Network Society: The e-Neighbors Study. (forthcoming). Information, Communication and Society 10(5). ]

For sure, localized electronic networks are usually more powerful than geographically-distant e-networks since they are more likely to be supplemented by or buttressed by real face-to-face encounters.  That said, the story highlights one listserve disaster in NYC where the building’s residents used e-mail as an excuse to say highly uncivil things to their neighbors that they would never say face-to-face.

What is your experience? 

If you’re interested in starting a neighborhood listserve, i-neighbors is one way of doing this.