Monday, December 3, 2018

What's Happening Next Door

It's hard to keep track of all the apps and online communities these days. One of them is Nextdoor, an app that serves as a virtual community for physical communities. One of our new neighbors invited us on, and it's easier than actually meeting and talking to neighbors, so here we are. Connected to hundreds and hundreds of our "neighbors."

Not quite a week ago, in the wake of the first real snow of the year, someone posted a little rant to the effect of Why does hardly anyone around here shovel their sidewalks??

I saw this post as I was going to bed, and my first thought was "I know, right?" I fell asleep, not thinking any more of it.

By the next morning, the comments on this post had blown up. And not along the lines of "I know, right?" More along the lines of "Go f*** yourself" (where "f***" stands for "shovel," of course).

It's an interesting microcosm of the neighborhood site, and there are some things to learn from it.

How you say it is just as important as what you say.

So, the original poster (I had to go back and look, because I was, myself, rather vague on the particulars) didn't necessarily do himself any favors when he said

I mostly work from home and I see people out walking in this neighborhood all the time. I only had to pay my snow removal guy an extra $25 to do my front sidewalk for the winter. I suppose it's a waste of money since only one other property on my block shovels too.
Lots of people took this as some kind of snobbery. "Not everyone can afford to pay to have their sidewalks shoveled!" "Not everyone is able-bodied enough to shovel for themselves!"

Oh, and the other part of the original message that probably didn't go over so well? He cited the Ohio Revised Code, which was seen as brandishing the threat of legal action against offenders. A number of counter-posters seized on this to gripe about how lots of people don't park legally (i.e. blocking the sidewalk), and basically there are all kinds of laws that are on the books and don't get obeyed. And, oh yeah, you're holier-than-thou for acting like you're not breaking any such "laws."

So maybe there was a more constructive way to phrase it.

Some people got axes to grind.

Somehow, almost everything that anyone posts that gets more than a half dozen responses will inevitably get on the topic of the local schools and/or how high the local taxes are (and what are we getting for our taxes anyway??). Seriously, both of those topics drew their own sub-threads of this conversation. And once schools got brought into it, another sub-theme emerged: where are all the youth who could be shoveling all our sidewalks for a shiny new quarter? Back in my day, kids always said "yes sir" and "no ma'am" and shoveled out everyone's driveway, even though they had to shovel uphill both ways. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but it did verge on that, and spawn a sub-sub-thread about how noisy some of today's youth are in the library, playing their computer games after school, and by the way where are these parents who are letting their children run wild in the library?? And so disrespectful when they're corrected! And, oh yeah, why aren't these rapscallions out shoveling my sidewalk?

Side note: I've been to the library, I've seen the kids playing Minecraft and whatever else it is that kids are playing nowadays. And, yeah, they're kind of rowdy. Over in the children's section, on the computers that are set aside for them--on a whole different floor from the adult computers and books. But anyway, I'm not saying that there was a racial subtext to these comments, but I'm not saying there might not have been, either. Anyway, back on topic.

Which, of course, is how these discussions quickly veer off topic, to people's pet peeves, regardless of the original topic.

But just one more thing to say: there was also the suggestion that we should have juvenile offenders doing community service by shoveling out all our community's sidewalks. I mean, okay I guess, but is there really some kind of juvenile crime spree that's going to mobilize enough teen-aged offenders to clear the sidewalks? And with what shovels? And... well, never mind. It's not a solution without more problems is all I'm saying.

People assume there are bull's-eyes on their chests, and then get really defensive.

I mean, look, can we all agree that the ideal situation would be that everyone would make sure that their sidewalks are cleared in the winter, within some kind of reasonable time frame? (Well, no, apparently we can't, as the thread showed) And, sure, some people who live in our neighborhood can't afford to pay someone to do clear the snow, and some people are also not physically able to go out and wield a shovel against the forces of winter.

But it's also not like as many people are in those situations as there are sidewalks that don't get cleared. I'm on a different street from the poster, but I can tell you: a lot of my neighbors pay to get their driveways cleared out, but don't get the sidewalks done. I don't know exactly how much it costs to have a service do it, because I do ours myself, but if you can pay whatever it is to have someone clear your driveway, an extra $25 for the entire winter season probably isn't beyond your means, you know? That's far less than the cost of one peppermint latte per week, and I assume that people who pay to have their driveways cleaned drink peppermint lattes. And it's completely obvious whether you hire a service or not, because they put up sticks on your driveway so they know where they edges are, and so I'll just add that most of my neighbors evidently aren't paying the extra $25.

But again, if you are someone who can neither afford to pay someone nor do it yourself, why is it so hard to just accept that the original poster wasn't really talking to you? Especially after he responds and says so? Do you really have to be the martyr here?

People have to be the martyr. And they get really shitty to each other really quickly. 

For instance, someone got all lawyer-ly about what the statue actually says and adds "if you shovel your sidewalk and dont salt, ice forms, and someone slips, you might be held accountable." Which immediately turns into the first of several posts to the effect of "who are these fancy folk who can afford to salt their sidewalks and driveways every time it snows??" And, thus, why bother at all, if you can't salt it after shoveling. But apparently that's how liability works? I'm a little lost, frankly. But seriously, there was one guy who just could not let go of the cost of salt (though he was egged on by someone giving him prices for salt at Costco... which of course made the cost of a Costco membership a pertinent issue).

Or a comment was made by someone who moved here from Chicago, about how in his or her old neighborhood, everyone shoveled their sidewalks. Oh my god. Talk about defensive. I'm pretty sure that the sentiments "then why don't you go back there?" and "well maybe you should have moved to a different community" were thrown as rejoinders to that, though not always so delicately phrased.

The original poster also got versions of "well maybe you should carry a shovel with you and shovel everywhere you walk" and "why don't you help all your neighbors by shoveling out their sidewalks instead of complaining." I mean, really?

But more generally, a certain percentage of people just get awfully nasty awfully quickly. It's like they've decided that it's all about them (because, you know, it is) and they get defensive, and then the gloves come off. And it's not like this is an anonymous forum. The "neighborhood" is large enough that I'm sure many people don't know each other outside of Nextdoor, but still, your name is attached to the things you're saying here.

But then again, I guess if you're the kind of person who doesn't shovel your sidewalk, you're probably the kind of person who... whoops, sorry.

But also, you can learn a lot more about the issues raised, and maybe make them better.

No, I didn't didn't need to hear about taxes again, or city services or the schools. But you do get a sense of what people are thinking and maybe a bit of the zeitgeist. And people do raise important points. I hadn't really thought of the extra burden on people with a corner lot, for instance, but after following this thread, I noticed how much sidewalk you can actually have in that situation. Other salient points were raised as well.

And there were also quite a few people who offered themselves or their children to help anyone who needed it. Or neighbors who mentioned other neighbors who routinely pitch in and clear off other people's sidewalks.

And maybe, after all the blustering is done, some percentage of people who are able-bodied or financially able will do some introspecting and decide that, after all, they could do more, starting with their own sidewalk, and maybe, just maybe, expanding to help other neighbors as well.

One can hope.

By the way, your thoughts--whether on shoveling sidewalks or on the discussion of shoveling sidewalks, or your own personal axe to grind--are always welcome in the comments section here. Thanks for reading!


  1. Yikes. I had a Nextdoor account for about two weeks and then I realized that I was starting to hate everyone I lived near, whereas before I'd had the account I felt pretty benevolent about my neighborhood.

    The final straw was the post about a "guy in a hoodie" (ie, not white) walking a dog that "clearly didn't want to be walked" and thus hoodie-guy was obviously "casing the houses". A chorus of people chimed in that the original poster should have called the police.

    I have never regretted cancelling that account.

    1. Wow. My dog frequently looks like she doesn't want to be walked. Lucky for me I'm white.

      I know what you mean, though--I think my neighborhood's great. Or, anyway, I did before I got on Nextdoor. :)

  2. Wow! I have that Nextdoor app but it's mostly about lost pets, missing mail, junk for sale, and random BS. All the drama here is in the local FB neighborhood groups instead. Those get quite interesting. LOL!