Location-based private online network Nextdoor aims to help neighbors get to know each other, increase social interaction and cohesion among them, and turn neighborhoods into more fun, safe, and social places.
Lower the threshold for meeting and connecting with neighbors – that is online network Nextdoor’s social mission, paving the way by facilitating the first contact. “For many of us, it feels safer to meet our neighbors for the first time by using an app,” explains Tamar van de Paal, country manager for the Netherlands – Nextdoor’s first country of operation beyond the United States. “Once we get to know them virtually, it is a lot easier to reach out to them in real life.”
An online pinboard for the neighborhood
Real communities are getting increasingly rare since people’s lives are becoming more and more individualized. Many urbanites no longer even know who their neighbors are, let alone interact with them – social exchange mainly takes place online or among networks of people who already know each other. But what might happen if you didn’t define communities by shared interests, like Facebook, but by shared location? With this idea in mind, location-based online network Nextdoor was founded in San Francisco back in 2010. Its aim is to reinvigorate urban communities through an easily accessible, user-friendly digital platform that encourages people to get to know their neighbors.
Nextdoor works a little bit like an online neighborhood pinboard. It gives neighbors a private go-to place for all sorts of practical matters and everyday activities – activities that require actual interaction. After you’ve verified your address, you can – for example – borrow a leaf blower or trailer, announce events like yoga classes and a neighborhood BBQ, or set up a neighborhood watch after yet another burglary.
Everyday interaction improves the neighborhood
By facilitating and encouraging everyday interactions between neighbors, Nextdoor also serves a higher and more important goal, says van de Paal: The more interactions take place between neighbors, the more the neighborhood benefits. He himself met a new neighbor via Nextdoor and now they stop and chat every time they run into each other.
Whether fleeting friendly encounters or organized activities – people obviously have different ideas of what makes a neighborhood better. But despite strong variations in use, “Nextdoor works well in any neighborhood since it is highly inclusive and accessible online as well as via mobile platforms.” People participate regardless of age, profession, or income, all striving to make their neighborhood more social, safe, sustainable, or even profitable by stimulating the local economy.
An online social network for every neighborhood in the world
In its first four years, Nextdoor already reached 50% of all U.S. neighborhoods. Due to its widespread adoption, Nextdoor is increasingly used by authorities in case of emergencies. In February 2016, the Netherlands was the second country to join the Nextdoor movement and around 20% of Dutch neighborhoods already use the service, with more international branches in the planning. “Our ultimate goal is to create an online community, and thus a real community, for every neighborhood in the world,” adds van de Paal.
Boosting social cohesion in neighborhoods is one of the major challenges for urban designers and social workers in the 21st century city. Our increasing focus on online and private social interactions means that we often no longer know our neighbors. Only the future can tell whether an online solution like Nextdoor will be able to bridge the gap and lead to positive offline change in our cities.