When Steve Jobs put the first iPod on the market, I wonder if he could foresee the place technology would hold in the everyday lives of people in the future. Today we can email, text, chat, get directions by GPS, connect on social media and take photos all from one device that is small enough to fit in our pocket. Long gone are the days of rotary phones and postal mail (snail mail) when they were our most common way of communicating.
As the way we communicate with friends and family have changed, so has the way we communicate with our neighbors. Garden clubs and homeowners associations are still around, but today the popular avenue is a presence on the internet via Facebook, Twitter, website or blog, commonly referred to as a "digital neighborhood or digital community."
Search Facebook and you will find several Hoover communities with pages, like The Preserve. On the “Like” page for the Preserve there are many photos of the community from Holiday decorations to events held within the community like the Moss Rock Festival. People can add their own photos and comment on others. The Preserve also has a website, hooverpreserve.com for reality and business information alone with historical information on the land and the Moss Rock Preserve.
Bluff Park is another example of a neighborhood on the digital road with its own community website. The site, BluffparkAl.org has everything from historical information to today’s community events and also gives community members tools to start neighborhood watch programs. BluffparkAl.org also has a forum page where residents can communicate with each other by talking about issues in the community, posting items for sale or lost and found pets, asking questions. Businesses have also taken advantage of the community hub.
BluffparkAl.org was created in August 2006 and has grown to be a major community hub for Bluff Park. The site has grown from strictly informational to interactive. As the motto states, “For, About and By Bluff Park, Alabama.”
Digital Neighborhoods are not neighborhood associations in most cases. Members will not find rules, by laws or restrictions on personal decorative taste or neighborhood upkeep.
Whether it is getting to know your neighbors, learning the history of where you live or following what your city officials are doing for the community, it’s important today to have a center hub that is for the people and by the people.
BluffparkAl.org often acts as a liaison between community members and state or local governments.
Representative Paul DeMarco uses community websites to stay connected to his constituents. “Community websites help elected officials keep up with different activities and events going on,” he said. “I try to stay in touch online with neighbors in Bluff Park and other neighborhood websites or pages to stay active in the area they serve."
The League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham and Bluffparkal.org hosted a Q&A Forum with candidates running for Hoover City council in 2012. At this event Hoover residents wrote questions on note cards for all the candidates to answer members of the League of Women Voters, and volunteers from Bluff Park's community website collected the questions and helped moderate the evening.
One of the most successful projects to date Bluff Park put into action was the Adopt-A-Soldier program. For several months residents collected and brought donations to BluffparkAl.org, where they boxed and shipped gifts, supplies and a letter from the community to many soldiers serving overseas.
Without the power of the internet projects, opportunities like these would not be as successful or even possible.
Heather Skaggs is a local writer and current volunteer with BluffparkAl.org.