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Neighbors Congregate in Front Porch Forums

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BURLINGTON - Sociologists are always talking about how fragmented American communities have become, how "social capital" is on the decline. But the Five Sisters neighborhood in Burlington's South End has long bucked that trend. In fact, Cottage Living recently named it one of the top-10 "cottage communities" in the country - in part because of a 6-year-old email newsletter called Front Porch Forum.

The free service allows people to receive email newsletters containing announcements from their neighbors. Forum users write about everything from petty crime to politics to lost cats. Residents say it's helped create a strong sense of community in the Five Sisters neighborhood; 286 of its 350 households subscribe.

FPF founder Michael Wood-Lewis lives in the neighborhood with his wife and four kids. In August ["Front Porch Forum Encourages Neighborliness - Online," August 16], Seven Days reported that he was expanding the service beyond Burlington, creating a forum for every neighborhood in Chittenden County. At the end of the year, Wood-Lewis says that more than 2700 households have signed up.

So far, according to Wood-Lewis, the most active forums are still in Burlington, but others are also getting into the act. "Brennan Woods in Williston signed up 150 people or so out of 180 houses," he says.

Even little Westford has 50 members in its forum. "They don't have a community newspaper there," Wood-Lewis points out. "It seemed to fill a real need."

So far the former nonprofit executive has been doing everything on a volunteer basis, but he predicts that pretty soon, he'll be looking for advertisers, particularly small, local businesses with minuscule advertising budgets.

Wood-Lewis proudly notes that word about FPF has gotten out beyond the Green Mountains. In January, he'll appear on a panel at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Chittenden County residents can get in on the community-building action at http://www.frontporchforum.com.

» Read the full list of 2006 news updates.

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