With Facebook, associations make neighborhoods ‘friendlier’

Social networking used to share information, increase participation

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Is your neighborhood association social networking?

Below are Vancouver neighborhood associations that show up in a Facebook search. Shown are the exact name of their Facebook profiles:

• Arnada Neighborhood Association.

• Bagley Downs.

• Carter Park Neighborhood Association.

• Fircrest Neighborhood Association.

• Fisher’s Creek Neighborhood Association.

• Hough Neighborhood.

• Hudson’s Bay Neighborhood Association.

• Image Neighborhood Association.

• Lewis & Clark Woods Neighborhood Association.

• Lincoln Neighborhood of Vancouver.

• Marrion Neighborhood Association.

• Northwest Neighborhood.

• Rose Village Neighborhood Association.

• Vancouver Heights Neighborhood Association.

• West Minnehaha Neighborhood Association.

Hough resident Eileen Cowen was on a neighborhood walk in the spring of 2011 when she noticed that many fences in her area had been tagged with graffiti. She went home, got on her computer and posted the news on the Hough neighborhood’s Facebook page.

As word about the graffiti spread, a nearby hardware store said it would offer paint discounts to those hit by taggers, and someone who follows the neighborhood’s Facebook page offered pressure washing services.

The social networking website also came in handy that summer, when graffiti struck the neighborhood yet again. About a dozen neighbors mobilized through the Facebook page, and in less than a few hours, they had removed the graffiti using the steel-wool, sponges, cleaning products and industrial-strength paper towels provided in the city of Vancouver’s tagging clean-up kits.

“Facebook’s been really helpful,” said Cowen, the neighborhood association’s co-chairwoman and Facebook page administrator. “It’s become a really great way for everyone to share information.”

The neighborhood association isn’t the only one in Vancouver using Facebook to increase neighborhood participation. A recent search reveals that at least 15 Vancouver neighborhoods have a presence on the social networking site initially created for college students.

The Hough (pronounced Howck) association also uses its Facebook page to alert neighbors to new businesses in the area, upcoming yard sales, road closures and reports of area crime. The page has about 230 Facebook users who “like” it -- or who subscribe to updates the neighborhood group posts.

In addition to sharing useful information, neighborhood Facebook pages are a tool to bring neighbors closer together, Cowen said.

“It’s helped people get to know each other,” she said. “Personally, I’ve met a lot of people through Facebook that I would not have met just walking around the neighborhood.”

The Hough Facebook page was created in 2009. Cowen said she tries to make the neighborhood page dynamic by posting updates at least twice a week.

Playing the administrative role has some challenges, such as making sure people remain civil with each other, but neighbors tend to be very kind while communicating on the page, Cowen said. There’s more incentive to be nice to a neighbor online because there’s a chance a commenter might run into him or her in person, she added.

The Hough neighborhood’s newsletter, which is printed and paid for by the city of Vancouver, also is popular with residents, the neighborhood’s city liaison, Dave Perlick, said. Although not everybody has Internet access, moving all neighborhood information online one day would help save money and trees, he added.

“I think it totally makes sense to rely more on the Web and social media,” Perlick said. “Maybe there’s a way to go paperless. We all need to be going in that direction.”

Just north of the Hough neighborhood, the Carter Park Neighborhood Association started its Facebook page in the fall and has about 45 followers who have signed up for updates.

The association’s treasurer, 11-year Carter Park resident Jerrad Isch, suggested creating the Facebook page to get more people interested in the association. Typically, only two or three people show up to neighborhood meetings, not counting the board members.

“I just said, ‘Let’s create a Facebook page. It should be pretty easy,’” Isch said.

One of his first posts included pictures of Carter Park homes decorated in holiday lights.

Since creating the page, the group has seen a slight increase in meeting attendance, and Isch said he hopes that continues to pick up.

Beyond meeting attendance, Isch said, “I am hoping for increased neighborhood participation. Just the day-to-day, neighbor-to-neighbor interactions, people saying ‘hi’ to each other, people looking out for each other, to make it a friendlier place.”

Other Vancouver neighborhood associations with recently created Facebook pages include the Fircrest, Fisher’s Creek and Lincoln.

Lincoln resident Jim Mains said he appreciates the convenience of participating in his neighborhood through Facebook.

“For me, it’s a nice way to stay connected without being connected,” he said in a Facebook message.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or http://www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or http://www.twitter.com/col_politics