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Project Nextdoor gets a neighborly welcome from Philly

New public-private partnership is intended to connect residents with each other and with city services through the Internet.

THE CITY IS now in a partnership with a San Francisco firm to help improve city-to-resident and neighbor-to-neighbor communications in neighborhoods across Philadelphia.

Whether the need is finding a local handyman, a baby-sitter, a lost pet, or even a cup of sugar from your neighbor, Project Nextdoor is now live on the Web.

The Nutter administration yesterday announced the official launch of the free, private social network designed to connect neighbors with one another and with city services. Its purpose is to partner with city departments and with Philadelphia Town Watch to gather and disseminate information.

"This is the first administration to come to life in the digital age," said city Managing Director Richard Negrin.

"The neighborhoods create and self-manage private networks that are accessible only to those residents of that neighborhood, so the city doesn't actually get visibility into those individuals, but actually has broader access to them generally, through the portal that is Nextdoor."

Whether the local problem is short dumping, litter, unwanted street signage or illegally parked cars, Nextdoor helps block captains and civic associations communicate a fix. It's also supposed to come in handy when dealing with public-safety issues, such as when neighbors want to alert each other to car break-ins or snow emergencies, or to engage more closely with elected officials.

Sarah Leary, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Nextdoor, said that Philadelphia is the largest U.S. city using the service. No taxpayer dollars were used in its implementation.

Leary says Nextdoor, a for-profit company, will seek to partner with businesses to help generate revenue. Although yesterday marked the official launch of the program in Philadelphia, Leary said implementation began in 2011, and she anticipates a growth spurt from now on.

"Over the last three years, citizens have started in over 283 neighborhoods across the city," Leary said.

"Members really appreciate that Nextdoor is private. You have to be able to verify your address before you can join it. When you join, you use your real name. It creates a trusted environment where they feel comfortable talking about the issues that really matter."