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North Hills Monthly

What’s hAPPening in Your Neighborhood?

Aug 29, 2019 09:41AM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Community Engagement Apps Help You Find the Answer

Walk across any college campus, through any airport terminal, or around any mall and you will see people engrossed in their phone screens, ignoring the world around them. However, while technology sometimes gets a bad rap for making individuals more isolated and self-absorbed, it also offers tools to help bring people together. Check out some of the best apps around for connecting with your community—or creating a new one.

New to the area? The Nextdoor app offers a platform for local communities to share information about what’s going on in the neighborhood. Users create a profile using the general location of their real address; like Facebook, Nextdoor relies on some level of transparency among users to create accountability for comments and posts. 

Nextdoor can be a great resource for learning about local events, getting recommendations for service providers—best tree trimmer in the area, anyone?—or selling that couch in the basement that needs to go. Neighborhood news ranges from helpful and relevant (I need to find a new veterinarian. Recommendations, please!) to random (What is that weird buzzing noise outside? Does anyone else hear that?) As in real life, your Nextdoor neighbors are who they are, and you take the quirky along with the mainstream. As a tool for event organizing, online buying or selling and local business recommendations, Nextdoor is an effective way to plug in to the local community. (Free; available for iOS and Android)

Facebook’s “groups” option is among the most popular methods to connect neighbors. Whether through a public group created by the local township or closed groups open only to neighborhood residents, Facebook provides a platform for local government or neighborhood associations to post information about events, to hold virtual garage sales and to organize gatherings. With the Facebook app, users have access to their community or neighborhood group and can stay current on community events and news. (Free; available for iOS and Android)

Savvy Citizen provides an excellent way for community leaders to share information with residents. If the local government uses Savvy Citizen, users can find information about community happenings, road closures, safety updates and special events. Municipal governments use Savvy Citizen similar to the way they use Facebook to share local information. The difference is that users can opt in to receive information as they wish, when they wish. Depending on the user’s communication preferences, individuals may receive push notifications through the app, text messages or emails about news. 

While the app is free to all users, the municipality must pay a fee to create its Savvy Citizen account. If your community utilizes Savvy Citizen, it is worth opting in. The app is an excellent tool to keep up-to-date about what is going on in the area. Locally, the Town of McCandless utilizes Savvy Citizen. (Free; available for iOS and Android)

Check your borough or township website for additional options. Hampton Township has a Citizen Request Tracker app that allows its citizens to report potholes, graffiti or downed streetlights to the local government. Once the issue is submitted, citizens receive a confirmation email and may track the status of the request along with comments posted by government officials. Cranberry Township offers a Cranberry Highlands Public Golf Course app that gives users the opportunity to schedule tee times, earn and redeem loyalty points at the pro shop or find out about the day’s course conditions. (Both apps are free; available for iOS and Android)

Extending the idea of community-building and engagement beyond the local neighborhood, the Countable app helps citizens stay abreast of government legislation and give feedback to their representatives in Congress. Countable offers short summaries of House and Senate bills in understandable terms, along with pro and con arguments to help voters understand both sides of the issue. Users may share their own vote, and then compare how it lines up with their elected representatives’ voting records. The app also provides email addresses to citizens’ congressional representatives so that users may voice their opinions to lawmakers. 

Although the app currently only works for federal legislation, developers are working to offer the same tool for state and local legislation. Reviewers laud the app for helping keep voters informed about issues that ultimately affect their neighborhoods. For community members who want to have their opinions heard by decision-makers, Countable provides an easily accessible avenue for speaking out. (Free; available for iOS and Android).

When Mr. Rogers sang about the “people in your neighborhood,” he may not have envisioned those people connecting though smartphones—but a neighborhood potluck is still a neighborhood potluck, regardless of whether it is organized by fliers in a mailbox or posting an event on an app. Apps give 21st century neighbors one more way to engage with their communities.