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While we all watched in horror as monster Hurricane Irma approached Florida last weekend, I and my neighbors turned in large numbers for news, assistance and just plain reassurance to a social media app that’s been around in Sarasota for a few years.

Nextdoor launched its nationwide network of private neighborhood-centered social media websites in 2011. (Go to nextdoor.com/find-neighborhood to see if your neighborhood has an account.)

According to the company’s website, “Nextdoor was created based on the idea that the neighborhood is one of the most important and useful communities in a person's life. Nextdoor's mission is to use technology to help neighbors build stronger and safer neighborhoods.” (“Be helpful, not hurtful” is one of its community guidelines.)

I’m a member of Nextdoor Granada, which includes posts from South Gate and Arlington Park. It’s a fascinating virtual town hall that alerted me in just one week last summer that Big Pass had shifted, magazine scammers are back in the neighborhood, a sinkhole opened at Jefferson at Hawthorne, and the Sarasota Evening Toastmasters club is looking for members. (“Have fun, gain confidence!”)

Nextdoor was instrumental in the creation last year of Porchfest, a home-grown music festival in Arlington Park that, this October for the second year, featured 40 local musicians on 20 front porches. Residents strolled to participating houses, stopped to enjoy the music, and met and greeted their neighbors.

Arlington Park has been going through lots of changes the past couple of years as many older, smaller homes are being torn down and replaced. “We’re trying to make it a community where people know your neighbors,” says Danielle O’Donnell, a longtime Arlington Park resident and member of the Porchfest Club, which organizes the free event. 

“It’s an invaluable tool, a great way to share information, to keep people alerted if an alarm goes off or a bike gets stolen, or if you have baby gear to sell,” says O’Donnell. “We’ve had over 600 people [sign up for] the app in our neighborhood in the last two years.”

Nextdoor posts lots of heartbreaking notices about lost dogs, sadly, but also this on July 27:

“Chicken wandering in our neighborhood. If anyone is missing a brown chicken she has been hanging out in our area. Pomelo Ave. and Prospect Ave. Very friendly.”

And

“Anyone have any luck keeping raccoons out of fenced yard (they climb over the fence) and out of pool :(.”

That post got 18 replies, by the way, with remedies like secure your garbage cans, sprinkle cayenne pepper, make sure your neighbors aren’t feeding stray cats and set out towels soaked in ammonia.

A flurry of messages appeared pre- and post-Hurricane Irma—pleas for extra generators, recommendations for pool cage repairmen, sparking telephone pole alerts, requests for spare teens to help fill sand bags and clear post-storm tree debris, and especially the latest electrical power news. It’s how we heard invaluable news like when the city would be resuming regular garbage pickup.

And it’s how we got to glimpse the zeitgeist of our little world, through posts like this:  

"Hi neighbors, I GOT SO MUCH "FLACK" from my last post I'm trying to PROVE I JUST WHOLE HEARTEDLY CARE ABOUT MY NEIGHBORS!! I just went to the Glacier Water Machine by Circle K across from Sarasota Memorial and JUICED UP MY BIG BOTTLES. The water is .30 cents per gallon, and it is FULLY OPERATIONAL. The only place I know of to get it any cheaper is at the Wal-Mart Water machine for .25cents. Hope this info is helpful to you ALL!! And Best of Luck with Irma. Let's just pray it stays FAR AWAY FROM US, and no casualties."

Well, neighbors will be neighbors.

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