National League of Cities on Strong Neighborhoods

I’ve always felt that strong neighborhoods are the key to affecting positive change in a community – especially in city government. My Dad, who is an Overland Park City Councilman, echoes this sentiment.

By my definition, a strong neighborhood is a local community of people that frequently communicate to socialize, pool resources, and solve problems.

eNeighbors helps neighborhoods develop stronger bonds through more efficient communication online and in many cases, our neighborhood websites are used to organize residents around important causes like reducing crime and working with the city to improve new developments.

The National League of Cities recently shared their “Lessons Learned” from community-based initiatives in collaboration with local government. (The full list of lessons is available here.)

Unfortunately, the list doesn’t provide anything actionable, but it is good food for thought. I do want to pick a bone with the last bullet point in their Lessons Learned though:

“The Internet is a powerful new tool for civic engagement. However, there is greater power in building relationships through face-to-face communication. While President Obama had a powerful Internet-connected organization, even more importantly he had a very strong on the ground organization built through individual contacts, house meetings and local actions.”

The above comment is a great example of the hesitation shown by old-line organizations fearful of how the Internet may replace face-to-face communication, but it’s exactly the opposite in my experience: the Internet increases face-to-face communication. The example that I always reference is the Nottingham Forest South Easter Egg Hunt.

The year before our website was in place, the Nottingham Forest South neighborhood relied on a paper flyer to communicate. They announced their annual Easter Egg Hunt in the April newsletter and 25 kids showed up. The next year, the website was in place and an email was sent out – 150 kids attended.

My point is that the Internet fosters face-to-face communication, it doesn’t replace it. And maybe even more importantly, when face-to-face communication is not possible, communication doesn’t stop, it can continue online.

If I’m the National League of Cities, I’m doing everything I can to research what works best in online communication and then encouraging my members to invest money in the online communication tools that make it easier for neighborhoods to interact with their elected representation and affect change. (HINT: A key component to this is real-time communication.)

Neighborhoods truly struggle with establishing good communication channels with their residents. If you send out a paper flyer, it’s costly (first class postage is now $0.44), people throw it away without reading it, and it contains information that is at least 30 days old. If you organize block captains they lose interest, or move away, or are on vacation when you need to get the word out.

But when neighborhoods can establish a real-time online communication channel that is sustainable over time, they can become organized and solve any challenge that they face. They can email and mobilize everyone in seconds, literally, in seconds. They can provide up-to-date and relevant information on a daily or weekly basis and it isn’t dependent on any single person to function so it will be sustainable.

The bottom-line: if you help neighborhoods establish better communication, you will form a stronger neighborhood.

Even simpler: better communication = stronger neighborhoods.

And just for fun: better communication, better communication, better communication.

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