Do you love your neighborhood? Or do you dream about moving away?
When I was younger, my neighborhood was my life. My family didn't have much money, so it wasn't a white-picket-fence, manicured-lawn type of neighborhood, but to me, it was home. I knew every tree and crack in the pavement. The other kids who lived there were my built-in community, and we spent every possible minute playing outside together.
Fast forward 20 years, and I can't tell you the last time I had a conversation with a neighbor. In fact, I don't know a single one of them by their first name.
I use my busy life as an excuse, but the truth is, we're just not as invested in our neighborhoods as we used to be. We may complain about things like potholes, vacant lots, and a lack of bike lanes, but do we take action? Rarely. Often, we wait for the local government to solve these problems for us, and when they don't, we complain some more. All the while, we're drifting farther away from those neighborly connections that used to be so important.
Neighborland, a New Orleans-based start up focused on citizen participation and city planning, hopes that its unique twist on social networking will help bring people back together.
By signing up for an Neighborland account, people can share ideas and insights for their city, support ideas suggested by their neighbors, and connect with people who share similar interests. It all starts by answering a simple question: "I want ____ in my neighborhood."
Once an idea has gathered some steam, the Neighborland community identifies achievable goals and fuels a discussion about how to accomplish them. "We are providing residents, neighborhood organizations, economic development groups, and municipalities with a powerfully simple platform to connect and make good things happen," writes the team. "A healthy neighborhood is a connected neighborhood."
Since Neighborland was born in New Orleans, it got to test its concept in the parishes of the Big Easy. Community groups already working on important neighborhood improvement projects found it a useful tool for collecting support and making public leaders aware of the community's desires. In the last few months, Neighborland has helped New Orleans citizens demonstrate broad public support for Open Data, extending the streetcar, and the reform of Food Truck laws.
Neighborland also has huge potential for opening lines of communication between city planners and the people who actually live in the neighborhoods they're working on. Instead leaving each party to wonder what the other is thinking, Neighborland provides an easy-to-use online platform that encourages citizen participation and an open exchange of ideas.
"We want to bring more people into the development process, help them understand it, and work with community and municipal leaders to make better places," said co-founders Dan Parham, Tee Parham, and Candy Chang. "Our job is to connect residents with the resources they need to make their ideas happen."
The young company is currently operational in three cities: Boulder, Colo.; Houston; and New Orleans, with plans to add at least 17 more over the next year. Currently, the company is funded by an Urban Innovation Challenge from Tulane University and the Rockefeller Foundation, but it is actively seeking community partners, from passionate nonprofit and economic development groups to redevelopment projects, or city governments. Those interested in bringing Neighborland to their city should contact the company directly.