Front Porch Forum wins Innovator in Place Award

During the CommunityMatters conference in Burlington Vermont end of October, the Orton Family Foundation named Michael Wood-Lewis winner of the 2007 Innovator in Place Award. Michael hosts and facilitates Front Porch Forum, a free online neighborhood forum based in Burlington, VT. 
From the official press release:

    "Some argue that the Internet isolates people, further tearing the social fabric," said Orton Family Foundation President and CEO Bill Roper, "but Michael proves the opposite can be true. His innovation, civic spirit and commitment enable the kind of friendship, trust and interdependence among neighbors that the Foundation believes are key to vibrant, sustainable community. His tool is enhancing Burlington's heart and soul." 

    Michael Wood-Lewis, with his wife Valerie, founded Front Porch Forum in 2006.  In its first year, the Forum's trend setting use of the Internet at the neighborhood level brought 25 percent of the citizens of Burlington, Vermont (pop. 38,889), into community discussions. The free on-line service hosts 130 adjacent neighborhood forums covering every part of Chittenden County. About 7,000 households have subscribed, and hundreds more join every month.

    "We hear from people all the time who lament not knowing their neighbors," said Wood-Lewis.  "When Front Porch Forum kicks into gear, those connections begin to form.  It's a wonderful thing to watch take root, grow and blossom."

    Citizens put Front Porch Forum to good use, connecting with neighbors and building community by posting all sorts of messages: borrow a ladder, refer a plumber, look out for a lost kitten, organize a block party, discuss traffic calming, report a break-in, announce a school play, debate zoning, and on and on.  In addition to direct results ("Kitten Found!"), it's the growth of community offline that is the true measure of Front Porch Forum's impact. Each message comes from a clearly identified nearby neighbor, so over time participants get to know each other better. This familiarity spills over from the virtual to the actual front porch.

    The webs spun by Front Porch Forum that connect people are strengthened by 250 Forum Neighborhood Volunteers who champion the forums in their own areas, and 140 local elected and public officials who participate across their jurisdictions.  Police and other government officials use the site to better respond to problems in their area.  A remarkable Burlington innovation actively cultivating the development of rich, vibrant community, Front Porch Forum is exploring replication options and has a waiting list with more than 150 communities. Michael Wood-Lewis's groundbreaking social innovation is a blueprint for community development of the future. 


The underlying technology appears to be standard bulletin board software that allows both submission via email and through a web form, to reach different audiences. Which shows that this is another remarkable example how not the latest social software applications, but an on-the-ground approach builds true online, an in this case real neighborhood, community.
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