ELYRIA — A social media platform best described as a virtual neighborhood watch group is gaining popularity in Elyria.
Geared toward those who skip block watch gatherings and forego attending City Council meetings, Nextdoor, an online network that prides itself on using the power of technology to build stronger and safer neighborhoods, is the newest way Elyrians are communicating with each other. It sprang up after city officials heard concerns from neighborhood watch coordinators and members that they wished for an online network that was not Facebook, tailored to specific areas and very secure.
“There are a lot of people that I know that really aren’t into Facebook,” said Catherine Sheetz, 45, of Eastern Heights Boulevard. “Something like this is more personal than a Facebook group and I know it’s about my neighborhood.”
Sheetz was invited to Nextdoor through a postcard she received in the mail and initially thought it was junk, but once she input her address she began getting updates about things very specific to her neighborhood. It didn’t take long before, as she put it, she was “hooked.”
“When someone tried to grab a person near EMH (Elyria Medical Center), I didn’t know anything about it until I grabbed my phone and saw the Nextdoor email alert,” she said. “It was good information to have right at that moment. I don’t get to go to block watch meetings and this is just an easy, quick way to communicate with the neighborhood.”
Councilman Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, has been pushing Nextdoor to residents for several months.
“Its live updates and individuals sharing good information about what is happening in their neighborhoods,” he said. “We, as a city, should definitely be using some of the new technologies to connect neighborhoods while still preserving some of the old-fashioned ways of communicating.”
Currently, 175 residents in six neighborhoods are on Nextdoor.
Madison said he would like to see 200 residents using Nextdoor by the end of the year and 500 residents signed up by the spring.
“From break-ins to yard sales, Nextdoor allows people to tailor messages to their specific neighborhoods and decide if they want to share that information with other neighborhoods,” he said.
Councilman Tom Callahan, D-at large, said Nextdoor could be useful in a lot of ways.
“Any time we can communicate a little bit more with our neighbors it’s a good thing,” he said. “Nowadays, people spend a lot of time in front of their computers, so this gets them right where they already are.”
Callahan hasn’t yet, but said he plans to sign up soon. He just recently learned of Nextdoor from Madison, who delivered a presentation on the platform during a recent City Council meeting.
“I think it’s a great idea and I commend Councilman Madison for taking the initial to connect people in this way,” Callahan said.
And, unlike a Facebook group where it’s hard to verify if a person actually lives within the neighborhood boundaries, Madison siad Nextdoor does it for you.
“Only real neighbors are allowed and you must be within the boundaries of the neighborhood,” he said.
Sheetz said the restrictive nature of the website makes perfect sense.
“What’s the point of John Doe on North Abbe Road getting all of the updates for Eastern Heights?” she said. “He doesn’t live here and doesn’t know the neighborhood. There are some people on here I wouldn’t think to communicate with, but I am getting to know my neighbors better through this.”
This platform is not new to Ohio. Numerous communities from Cleveland Heights to Lorain and Medina have neighborhoods represented on the Nextdoor map.
“In essence, we are putting our neighborhoods on the digital map,” Madison said.
Bob Sezt began using the website in early spring. He said it has helped reinforce for him the idea of what it means to be in a neighborhood. Sezt lives near 10th Street and West Avenue and is a part of the south Elyria network.
“It feels like you’re not alone,” said the 33-year-old father of two. “Sometimes when you live in a neighborhood that is not all picket fences, you can feel like you’re all alone. But truthfully that’s not the case. There are a lot of good people living around you if you know how to find them.”
And, in a world where social networking and finding an app for everything is commonplace, Nextdoor takes care of both. There is an app for the program, but it also sends updates via e-mail to users.
“Its social media and online, but it’s also a lot like a block watch,” Setz said. “Maybe 50 years ago, it was easy to just be on your front porch, talking to your neighbors. People don’t do that as much anymore. This allows you to have your crazy like and still keep up with what’s going on.”