In Melbourne, residents meet their neighbors online

MELBOURNE -- As online communities continue to flourish, residents in Melbourne's inner-city take action to keep neighborliness alive in their suburbs.
Written by Lieu Thi Pham, Contributor

MELBOURNE -- In the city's inner north, a group of residents are using the Sharehood – a free, online community website - to borrow tools, learn new skills and connect with neighbours.

Michael Green, a Sharehood supporter, believes that in most Western countries it has become awkward to say hello to people in the street. “My experience has been that most of us are thrilled to have an excuse or a reason to connect with one another, and the Sharehood helps give us the icebreaker that we need.”

The Sharehood was created four years ago by web developer Theo Kitchener, a Northcote resident. I got the idea for the Sharehood when I was living at a house that didn't have a washing machine. I knew all my neighbors would have them, but I was too shy to go ask if I could use theirs. So I decided to build a website instead,” Kitchener says.

Connecting via the site, neighbors can share anything; vegetables, tools, books or washing machines, find someone to help with the gardening, fixing bikes, learning languages or childminding, or even get together for block parties and open-air movie screenings using a projector and other equipment, on loan and always for free.

The Sharehood is underlined by the idea of collaborative consumption, which recognises that it’s more efficient to make better use of our resources.

“There’s no point in paying for bigger houses or offsite storage in order to keep stuff we bought but don’t use. Better to borrow from someone nearby when you need it,” Green says.

Green hopes that the network will also increase community engagement. “Once people get to know one another in a neighbourhood, a street begins to feel like a community: people are more likely to take an interest in their local issues and – I hope – also become more engaged citizens on a larger scale.”

He argues that safety can also be a by-product. “People feel much more secure in communities where people know each other. There are more eyes on the street, and you can easily contact someone close by if you’re worried about something,” he says.

Currently there are Sharehoods operating in the United States, Italy and the United Kingdom. “There’s nothing stopping the Sharehood from working in other areas,” Kitchener says, “and we’re starting to do more to support people starting Sharehoods all over the place.”

There are now 1,750 site users in Melbourne, with nearly 4,000 ‘shareables’ listed. Plans are underway to integrate the Sharehood with other social networking sites and to develop a smart-phone application.

Photo: Michael Green

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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