Block clubs are going virtual.
More and more neighbors who in the past would have organized community meetings to share news of the latest garage break-in or bike theft are now turning online to discuss crime.
After last month's almost fatal beating of a man in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul, residents used the online forum at E-Democracy.org as a way to talk about the incident and exchange ideas on crime solutions.
Earlier this month, posters to the online forum met more informally to talk about neighborhood fears and ways to combat them as dialogue continues on the site.
"The Internet is the ultimate ice breaker," said Steven Clift, who started E-Democracy.org in 1994 as a way to support civic engagement and strengthen communities.
Facebook groups and crime watch pages with posts about the latest statistics and news, as well as e-mail chains about community meetings and the like are becoming popular ways for residents to keep up with goings-on. NextDoor.com, a relatively new social networking tool for neighbors, has emerged as another online destination for people to learn about crime and other news in their area.
"People want to be safe … It's personal to people. So if you are broken into or your bike was stolen, darn it, you want people to know," Clift said.
Online tools are a great avenue for people to get together and to maintain involvement in between community meetings or missed meetings, Clift said. People who meet online can get together in person if they'd like, he said.
But sometimes meeting in person can be difficult, said Karin DuPaul, community organizer for the Dayton's Bluff community council.
"Trying to get people to want to meet is hard. … I think part of it is that people are [busier] than they used to be," DuPaul said.
When she moved to the neighborhood, married women who weren't working would normally organize the block clubs. Nowadays, many of those women work and their children are involved in multiple activities that keep them on the go, DuPaul said.
Despite the possible inconveniences, Patty Lammers, the neighborhood safety organizer for the Payne-Phalen district council, said she encourages the 14 or so block clubs in her area to have at least one face-to-face meeting a year.
Some block clubs meet every other month; some just annually each summer. Nearly all of them participate in National Night Out which is held every August.
"You really want to know your neighbor, not just through your keyboard," Lammers said.