Chances are, in the digital age where more of our friends live on Facebook than in our communities, you never have. But Sarah Leary remembers the neighborhood of her youth, where people looked out for one another — not just their baking needs, but also their children, homes and property.
It was this nostalgia that inspired Leary to start Nextdoor, a private social network for neighborhoods. It’s one of the only social media sites that encourages personal over digital relationships with the aim of not only making for a better block party on the Fourth of July, but also fostering trust in communities and making neighborhoods from Palo Alto to Denver safer. More than 57,000 neighborhoods have joined the social network. And the startup last month raised $110 million from investors, bringing its total funding to $210 million and valuing the company at more than $1 billion.
And Leary says the platform is leading to safer neighborhoods.
"Police believe very strongly that if you can start a dialog with residents, there is better communication with the police department, but equally important, residents are talking to each other," she said. "They know each other, so if they see something unusual, they’re going to say something. At Nextdoor we are taking that notion of community policing and looking out for your neighbor and using technology to make it more readily available so you have more eyes and ears on a community."
Leary pointed to Sacramento, Calif., which has doubled the number of residents who are participating in Neighborhood Watch, thanks to Nextdoor.
"Nextdoor gives communities the tools to form a Neighborhood Watch," she said. "Sacramento has seen a 14.9 percent decrease in the crime rate citywide in the past year and a half since it rolled out Nextdoor. It’s the same thing in San Diego. They’ve seen a tripling of the people involved in a Neighborhood Watch as a result of Nextdoor."
But some users have found that addressing crime in a neighborhood in this way can lead to racial profiling, derogatory speech and racist commentary, though Leary said she has not seen this to be a problem.
"We see this being brought up as an issue like 0.001 percent of the time; it’s a very, very isolated situation," she said. "We give tools to the community to be able to flag such comments and have a constructive dialog about how can we handle this in a way where we’re reporting crime incidents while making sure that we’re not calling out individuals in an inappropriate way."
©2015 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.