By: Matt Skogen
“Treasure chest wanted” was the subject heading. No, I do not have one nor did I request a treasure chest, but this notification appeared through an app on my phone known as Nextdoor. Is this app bridging the divide of technology and social sustainability? Sure, it is! Now hear me out, how else would someone be able to reach out to most of their neighborhood to find their lost dog, dropped keys, free flagstone, see if everyone’s power is out in the neighborhood, etc. all in a matter of seconds and at a person’s fingertips?
How is this promoting social sustainability? Different descriptors encompass the definition of social sustainability but topics are generally anthropocentric focuses on equity, livability, community development, support, justice, responsibility and more. The short hand definition of social sustainability can be defined as “do no harm” and “make a positive difference” (Hitchcock, D. & Willard, M., 2011). Reinforcing the definition, Nextdoor members can post on any topic within the parameters of the Community Guidelines, one of them being “Be helpful, not hurtful” (Nextdoor, 2018).
Unique to Nextdoor is the verification process, a verification code sent to your postal address in the form of a postcard from Nextdoor and you must enter it into the mobile app. Like most social media apps, you must register to use it, but the postcard verification code must be entered as well. After verifying your address, you can communicate with immediate neighbors in your neighborhood and even post to other neighborhoods on certain subjects. Overall, instead of just being able to connect to your neighbors to your right or to your left, you are able to reach a broader network of people in your community. “Need help moving a few pieces of furniture, will pay in pizza,” free meal, yes please. Not only is this app allowing neighbors to connect, but also communicate directly with one another.
Many different apps, Facebook being one of them, ask for permission to monitor your preferences to cater the experience to one’s interests, which skews the information presented to the user. This can alter the perception of news, consumer products, music, and more creating a biased and limiting perspective on information.
Nextdoor is supporting an outlet for the previously mentioned aspects of social sustainability to take place unaltered and unfiltered by the marketing and advertising industry. For example, I can receive notifications about when the neighborhood Green Team is meeting and what they will cover. Community events and social get togethers are also popular Nextdoor topics – to the extent that I am unable to attend all the block parties that my neighbors are hosting! Authentic and genuine neighborhood conversations or events are able to be posted unaffected by algorithms monitoring a user’s preference or previous webpage clicks.
This spurs more direct social interaction with not just people that may like similar things, but with people that may have differentiating opinions or views furthering critical discussions. Postings can range from “Free 12-foot wooden bridge,” to “suspicious people staring at houses” and posted by neighbors that I would have never connected with otherwise. This ability to post a comment, issue, event, classified, etc. on Nextdoor unadulterated by advertising influences is allowing for a more direct form of socially sustainable communication.
Currently, my neighborhood has 4,379 neighbors on the app. At any given time, if I’m looking to borrow a treasure chest, I can send a subject heading of “Treasure chest wanted.”
Hitchcock, D. & Willard, M. Confused About Social Sustainability? What It Means for Organizations in Developed Countries. 2011. International Society of Sustainability Professionals, February 2011, https://www.sustainabilityprofessionals.org/confused-about-social-sustainability.
Nextdoor. Community Guidelines. Nextdoor. 2018. https://help.nextdoor.com/customer/en/portal/articles/2446947.
About the Author – Matt has been involved in sustainability, long-range planning, environmental education, and conservation issues throughout his career. Prior to joining Brendle Group, Matt worked with municipal planning and community engagement at the cities of Thornton, Colorado and Portland, Oregon. In these roles he worked on projects related to master planning, sub area planning, design context, and housing and population estimating. While working for the City of Thornton, Matt ensured diverse social, environmental, and economic impacts were considered during long-range planning projects. His engagement techniques span all age levels with experience facilitating environmental education and leadership training for youth with Crossroads for Kids.
His passion for sustainability led him to a dual masters program in Business Administration and Urban and Regional Planning. With these degrees, Matt approaches projects with a business and financial mindset when considering the impacts of sustainability planning through the lenses of understanding general funds, department funding, and fiscal impacts. During his Master’s program, he studied sustainability abroad in rural Spain, on the Datca Peninsula in Turkey, and in Denmark where he worked on district energy, sustainability implementation projects, and systems resiliency.
At Brendle Group, Matt supports many sustainability and resiliency projects through facilitation and stakeholder engagement, program support and development, and project process flow.