Thought Leaders//

How Neighbors Are Building a Kinder World, One Gathering at a Time

Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar shares how communities around the world are gathering in their neighborhoods to make big change.

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Getty Images

At the start of a new year, we often resolve to make change for ourselves and our surroundings. Embarking on a new decade, I reflect on what neighbors showed me in my first year as CEO of Nextdoor: that change can begin with simple acts of kindness and that gathering together in our neighborhoods can have a profound effect on our lives.

I experienced this firsthand as neighbors around the world extended invitations to their local gatherings. In Atlanta, I pulled up a chair with a dozen people who called the city home: neighbors, community leaders, public officials, local entrepreneurs. Our group came together to discuss a common goal. They had all been working on solutions—individually up until that point—to help neighbors in need of food security. With sleeves rolled up and arms outstretched, our conversation was productive. They left with more resources than they came in with; they left with neighbors to rely on. 

The table in Atlanta was one of many where I witnessed the real-life impact of the online-to-offline connections that begin or are nurtured on Nextdoor. I’ve been to neighborhood fiestas in Spain, a local business owner meetup in Denver, a town hall meeting in Sydney, a community group in Canada. I’ve watched hands, both literally and figuratively, reach across tables, and oftentimes divides, to share problems, ideas, and support. Taking part in neighborhood conversations reinforces what I know to be true: what we have in common is greater than what separates us. Even these photos strike me as a collage of one large community instead of smaller ones sprinkled across the globe. 

A year ago, I penned my first letter to you as CEO of Nextdoor. Since then, my team and I have been hard at work developing better ways to bring people closer to their local communities. We have seen a 25% decrease in reported comments between neighbors since launching our Kindness Reminder feature. There has also been a trend on the platform of neighbors coming together to form groups offline. I attended one meetup in Australia and saw for myself how it was transforming their community. A member named Delene called on neighbors to join her for breakfast during a difficult time in her life, and now the weekly club has led to countless friendships, support systems, and one marriage proposal. For some, it is simply a reason to leave the house. What we’re doing at Nextdoor continues to grow and the why only strengthens. 

While we have a lot to celebrate from this past year, we recognize that there is still much to overcome in our communities: social isolation, the rise of incivility, increased polarization. Physician and The Rabbit Effect author Dr. Kelli Harding, has researched how neighborhoods and communities affect individuals’ wellbeing and affirms that the most important thing we can do for our health is to foster positive relationships. Dr. Harding shares: “A review of 148 studies with 308,849 participants found that active social circles increased a person’s likelihood of survival by 50% regardless of age, gender, or other medical problems.”

At Nextdoor, we know that cultivating more casual, low stakes relationships, like those with your neighbors, is often the beginning of something bigger. A chat at the local coffee shop, sharing what you did this weekend with a parent at pick-up. Explained in this article, sociologist Mark Granovetter calls these relationships “weak ties,” though their effects are anything but. These are connections that can help us feel less lonely and more empathetic, they are trusted sources for services, recommendations, even jobs. They are the examples of connections we see happen every day on Nextdoor.

As we work with experts to better measure and improve neighborhood vitality, we also turn to you as the ultimate experts on what powers your community. In 2020, we will be hosting gatherings in neighborhoods around the world, starting in New York City, where tonight in Brooklyn I’ll be hosting a get-together with neighbors of all kinds: local business owners, community organizers, families, and new friends. Next stop? You tell me: To host a neighbor gathering in your area with some help from Nextdoor, share here what makes where you live so special or in need of a gathering. 

In this new year and new decade, Nextdoor remains committed to cultivating kindness in every neighborhood by instantly connecting you to neighbors you can rely on. We know we won’t always get it right; we expect your feedback, ask you to keep us accountable, and thank you for inviting us into your community. At Nextdoor, it takes a neighborhood—this year, I’m looking forward to getting to know more about yours.

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