I believe the adage that it takes a village to raise a child, but even once the kids have left the nest, neighbors are still important. What better way to find a trusted handyman, get feedback on that new corner restaurant, or be forewarned that there's someone breaking into cars on your street?
But without the kids to naturally create the introductions, getting to know neighbors, especially in Center City, can be challenging.
So, after repeatedly deleting the emails and trashing the postcards from the site Nextdoor (they are wisely sent from a neighbor), the urgent need for a plumber encouraged me to check it out. Water was leaking from the base of the toilet and needed a quick fix.
Nextdoor is an online site where more than 1,000 people in my neighborhood, and an additional 3,600 in surrounding neighborhoods, can exchange opinions, questions, tips, and recommendations. Launched in 2011, the site covers more than 125,000 communities across all 50 states, including more than 300 in Philly.
So I logged on to Nextdoor and asked for a plumber. Within 10 minutes I had three responses. I immediately chose one based on a glowing recommendation and when I called, the plumber actually answered the phone. He came within a couple of hours, fixed my leak, and was reasonably priced. In fact, my neighbors were so helpful that, to stop more responses from coming in, I had to put up another post that all was well with my plumbing needs.
I've gleaned other valuable information from the site as well. One post informed me that the Kimmel Center would be open free of charge on New Year's Day. Visiting the performing arts center has been on my bucket list and New Year's Day seemed the perfect time for an outing. We had some friends visiting from out of town and the weather was gorgeous. A jaunt up to Broad Street was especially refreshing after the previous night's festivities.
In the main hall, guests were treated to a 15-minute introduction to the grand organ. We listened as the organist played strains from Phantom of the Opera and other tunes, explained the organ's rich history, and demonstrated how it worked. It was truly magical. Afterward, we watched the Mummers Parade, something else I'd never done before in person. On TV you don't see the personalities displayed as you do up front and personal and the costumes were gorgeous in the gleaming sunlight.
In another Nextdoor post, a resident asked what all the building noise was on a particular street corner. The person posting had sleeping kids and couldn't go herself to investigate. A neighbor got the scoop and filled her in. Another woman, sick in bed, asked if someone could walk her dog for her. A homeowner who was out of town during last month's snow asked if someone could shovel his walk and he'd send their fee electronically through PayPal.
The downside is getting lots of emails, many that don't interest me. I understand there are filters I can use to receive only updates I want, but so far, I find it all quite fascinating. The site insists that personal email addresses are used only to log in and aren't shared or sold to third parties, something that's important to me.
I have met some of my neighbors in person, on the street, at the dog park, and through community events. Though I haven't personally met most of the folks on Nextdoor yet, I imagine that will change if we want it to. But if not, I'm content to accept the advice of my well-meaning cyber-neighbors who are willing to offer up their opinions and advice.
And unlike bumping into a neighbor on the street who kindly wants to critique the new corner restaurant when I'm rushing to make an appointment, I can navigate Nextdoor on my own schedule.
Terri Akman is a writer in Philadelphia.