“… There must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street ...” wrote Jane Jacobs in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” in 1961. While Jacobs was referring to the physical orientation of urban planning to develop neighborhoods that naturally created a sense of community and comradeship, and while her sentiment is easily applicable more than 50 years later, there is a tool that has developed and changed how we communicate as a society: the Internet — more specifically, social networking.
While physical “eyes upon the street” are necessary, we have the added advantage of a vast network of virtual eyes on our shared streets; we can communicate concerns, threats, new developments, events, or simply expand our neighborhood’s personality online. We can utilize social media as a powerful tool to not only keep each other informed and aware, but also as a dynamic tool to promote what our neighborhoods have to offer. So, rather than just “eyes upon the street,” we can leverage the power of social media to create a virtual welcoming mat to our community.
How can we do this? Often we feel the need to share the negative attributes of our neighborhoods. Do we do this intentionally? No, probably not. But, as many neighborhood associations organize in response to negative issues that a group of individuals wish to see changed, we often get stuck reporting what is wrong about our neighborhood and neglect to share what is good, what is changing and what we are proud to associate with our community.
Our virtual eyes and voice can spot and share more than cracks in the sidewalks, cigarette butts or crime. And it is easier than one might think to do so. There are many forms of social media available, but every neighborhood association should take the time to set up and maintain a Facebook and Twitter page. “Maintain” is an important part of this process. While both Facebook and Twitter are free services, no benefit can be gained from static pages that haven’t been updated in months. If your neighborhood has a website, make certain to make the links to your Facebook and Twitter pages easy to find as, more often than not, your social networking pages will have more up-to-date information than your website itself.
While it is important to remind your neighbors of potential crime, break-ins or auto theft, remember that your social media content is not only being seen by your neighbors, but by anyone simply browsing to learn more about your community. A litany of concerns on crime will not encourage them to visit, nor encourage them to move to your neighborhood. Consider a monthly e-newsletter or a specific email alert to report crime and let your social media work for you, not against you.
The first step to creating a positive social media presence for your neighborhood is to attract as many people to your page as you can. Make certain your neighbors have “liked” or are following your social media, but don’t stop there. Someone doesn’t necessarily have to live in your neighborhood to be concerned or interested in what is happening in your community. On Facebook, go to the pages of local businesses in your community, find the “spoke”-shaped icon under their banner photo and select “Add to my page’s favorites.” Within Twitter start following organizations or businesses in your neighborhood. For both Facebook and Twitter, don’t necessarily stop at what is only in your neighborhood. Look for larger organizations and alliances that represent your part of the city and start building a network. Expand beyond the digital world and promote weekly opportunities to connect with neighbors — a night where everyone makes an effort to sit out on their front porch, or simply congregate at a local bar or restaurant.
Now, get creative. Start sharing events that are taking place in your neighborhood — block parties, garage sales, future neighborhood meetings or even smaller gatherings. If you can’t think of anything taking place in your neighborhood, consider organizing something — this could be as simple as a neighborhood cleanup day or a morning walk. Always show your community. Social media, at its heart, is really a visual form of communication. Share photos of your neighborhood, or even video. Grab a camera and do a monthly “Block Walk.” You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find and how a neighborhood — every neighborhood — changes and evolves over time. Promote a photo contest to encourage your neighbors to perceive their community on a new level and to share their perspective with others. Make certain your page is alive with color and imagery.
Create content. Post articles regarding new developments or positive new occurrences in your neighborhood. Give your neighbors a face and a voice by allowing them to write a short piece about why they live where they do and make certain to include a photo of them, so their story is more personable and real. Specifically, introduce individuals who have recently moved to your neighborhood or promote a new business that has recently opened. Engage your city council representative and state senator; make certain they are aware of your activities and give them a platform to share what they feel is important to their constitutes.
And never forget to praise individuals who are making a difference in your neighborhood, such as die-hards who have lived there for ages and have helped maintain your neighborhood over time.
In the end, the eyes that will come across the social media content for your neighborhood will be not only those of your neighbors, but also of a much larger community. Always keep that in mind when you post. Make certain that the image and personality that you create for your neighborhood online reflects the physical neighborhood that you know and love.
Ronald Abdouch is the executive director of the Neighborhood Center. Chad Eacker is president of the Market West Neighborhood Alliance and co-founder/creative director of Delinea Design