The implications of Nextdoor being a successful virtual third place could be very important in a society that continues to focus solely on work and home spheres, which limits exposure to differing viewpoints. It could be a forum directed at the precise group of people who will need to be connected in the event of a disaster, which would vastly improve that neighborhood’s resilience. If people are able to work together and organize efficiently after a disaster, it improves recovery time and frees up emergency responders to focus their efforts on more vulnerable parts of the city. Additionally, if well-networked, trusted neighbors on Nextdoor can collaborate with emergency managers on the city or country scale, that could potentially be a very effective pathway to disseminate information. Perhaps even before the earthquake hits, the generalized trust that is being built on Nextdoor will encourage people to pay attention to preparedness warnings posted by neighbors, and take individualized steps to prepare, such as making a kit or retrofitting their house.
Cities are beginning to adopt community resilience into their emergency preparedness plans. Wellington, New Zealand’s Emergency Management Office released a Community Resilience Strategy, with a section that highlights the importance of bonding, bridging, and linking social capital and social networks in fostering resilience (2012). The Australian Red Cross released a National Disaster Resilience Roundtable report that focuses on the application of social capital to disaster resilience (2012). It discusses trust, reciprocity, and the ability to share information quickly with existing social networks. It stresses the importance of social capital in mobilizing people and resources immediately after a disaster as well as the long-term importance of social capital in the long term recovery. The City and County of San Francisco published a “Resilient San Francisco” plan that included a chapter on neighborhood connectivity. They discussed utilizing libraries as hubs for meetings and interactions, and although they didn’t mention social capital or third places by name, they alluded to their functions.
This increased focus on social capital also requires emergency managers to have a plan for coordinating and utilizing public contributions (LaLone 2012). Multiple studies have highlighted the importance of the role of local organizations in coordinating social capital (volunteers, resources, etc.) with the needs of emergency responders to streamline the response (Ozanne and Ozanne 2013, Eller et al. 2015). Cities are beginning to incorporate citizens into the emergency management process by training volunteers in Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), also known as Neighborhood Emergency Teams (NET) in Portland. For the NETs, there are four goals for members, which are to be prepared themselves, provide emergency assistance to neighbors and family, work within an emergency response team, and organize untrained volunteers who want to help (Portland Bureau of Emergency Management 2017). To take this one step further, being aware of and connected to those untrained volunteers before a disaster happens could be extremely useful, and could give NETs the ability to anticipate the strengths and weaknesses in their neighborhood. For example, if they know there are doctors, skilled construction workers, or experienced campers/survival experts in the neighborhood, it would be faster and easier to get them involved.
Scholars have pointed to the use of neighborhood social media as enhancing connections between individual neighbors and their communities (Baym 2015). Mesch & Levanon (2003) found that geographically-based community networking increased the social involvement and participation in the extended community, and complemented traditional forms of communication. In a longitudinal study on locally based electronic forums, Mesch & Talmud (2010) found that participation in a community electronic network amplified civic participation and fostered an elevated sense of community attachment. Ultimately, it is the way people utilize virtual technology that has an impact on community involvement, and often when a geographic component is added, civic participation and face to face interactions increase.
With the increase of natural disasters due to climate change, and the ever present risk of technological or social disasters, it’s more important than ever to establish networks within local communities. The rise of virtual third places could help streamline this process by providing larger groups of people access to spaces in which they can connect with their neighbors, which can help build safer communities in the short-term, and more resilient communities in the long-term.