High Tech, Low Tech Unite a Community

In Greenridge, a community of Eichler homes in Castro Valley, social media, a sidewalk news center, and four-legged friends have helped increase community spirit. Here Renee Hermosa poses with her golden retriever Rosie. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Word spreads quickly in the Eichler community of Greenridge thanks to neighbors who want to create and preserve a strong community for everyone, from young people comfortable with social media to older people who are not.

A community-only Facebook page has been attracting participants since 2009, building to a current roster of about 280 participants, says Rene Hermosa, who uses the page often.

“It’s pretty well established, and it’s very well used,” she says, adding, “I look at it daily, or every other day.”

Greenridge, with about 185 homes, was built in the early 1960s along a steep spine of road, with associated side streets, in the unincorporated Alameda County community of Castro Valley. Near what was then the new Cal State Hayward, and not that far from the Lawrence Livermore Lab, it has always attracted interesting people.

But bringing them together sometimes proves a challenge, as it does in many neighborhoods where people lead busy lives.

Complicating matters in Greenridge, says Barbara Eandi, a resident since 2008, is that the homeowner’s association covers both the Eichler homes and a neighboring group of more traditional homes.

There's nothing high tech about an old-fashioned community bulletin board, but the one in Greenridge gets many viewers and helps spread the word. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“It’s never been clear to me why it covers the bigger neighborhood,” she says.

The neighborhood's Facebook page, which is open only to neighbors of the Eichlers and the neighboring Coldwater canyon, for some reason seems to get most activity from Eichler owners.

“For the past several years it’s been the major form of communication,” Barbara says, noting that it evolved from an earlier neighborhood web page that focused largely on real estate.

The Facebook page does much more.

For one, it really has brought people together. “I have felt that it was really instrumental, really significant, in bringing the whole community together, especially the Eichler owners,” Eandi says.

“One thing that has been common with the recent storms is warning about road closures and fallen trees,” Eandi says. “A week or so ago we had a tree fall across Greenridge, and residents were out with chainsaws before the county got there, and it had been posted on FB before anyone ran into it.”

“There are real interactions too,” she says -- meaning interactions that occur offline. “Groups are forming, for people with children of a certain age.

One regular event that is publicized via bulletin board and on the community-only Facebook page is a cleanup of the 'Triangle,' an area at the entry to Greenridge. Courtesy of Barbara Eandi

Renee says, “Within that [Facebook] group we have a garden coop where people share vegetables, and have meetings every so often. We had a speaker last week on pruning trees, and we have social gatherings every few months.”

“We sold seedling to fund a neighborhood beautification project,” she says.

“There’s a Facebook book group, and there was a knitting group,” says Renee, who puts on house concerts in her Eichler. “There’s a cocktail groups that meets sporadically at a local bar. Somebody will post, we’ll be there in 15 minutes.”

Also big on the Facebook page are recommendations for contractors and home improvements, Renee says. “We’ve got a leak in the roof. What do I do right now?”

People post items that are lost and found, note nearby traffic problems, “like on Crow Canyon Road when trees are down,” Renee says.

Barbara Eandi gives one example of how quickly a post on Facebook can bring action. She volunteers at the Oakland Museum’s popular annual White Elephant Sale and needed a costume for a photo showing the sale’s theme, Rosie the Riveter.

“They wanted to do a photo shoot with people dressed like Rosie. I asked [on Facebook] if anybody had a denim shirt, and I was going to wear a red bandana. It worked.

“They all dropped them by my house. That’s the kind of thing that happens regularly.”

Barbara says Facebook use grew slowly in Greenridge.

A holiday 'Pooch Parade' at Greeenridge suggests how the dog-walking community adds to the society there. Courtesy of Barbara Eandi

“When [the organizer] first put it up, maybe 20-something people joined it. Facebook was having trouble then with its privacy settings, and people felt their information was being released, even though we were a private group.

“Of course for young people it’s nothing. Privacy is not as important to them as it is for older people.”

“It’s the only page I use on Facebook,” she adds, “and I go to it several times a day.”

Six months ago Greenridge got another useful communications device of a lower-tech sort – a community bulletin board shaped, of course, like an Eichler.

It’s really pretty cute,” Barbara says.

The idea came from the homeowners association board, Renee says. “They needed a central place for people who are not on social media. They put up basic information, when the meetings are, who to call for information or in emergencies. It’s not for for-sale items.”

Its builder was resident Abe Crimele, who also created the Eichler-shaped Little Free Library at Greenridge, and at least one Eichler-styled dog house. It was installed on a fence owned by residents Matt and Rose Clowry about six months ago.

Greenridge is a well-tended neighborhood with mostly well-preserved Eichler homes. Friendships and strong community connections help keep it that way. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“It’s an easy way to get information out to people quickly. And people know about the bulletin board now, and they look when they walk by,” Renee says.

Speaking of dog houses suggests another important technology that helps foment friendships. It’s a device that walks on four legs.

“For a while we were doing monthly dog walks,” says Barbara Eandi, who says she and her husband acquired one of these devices following pressure from neighbors. “We got one because everybody kept harping on us to get a dog.”

“I’m going to create a separate page just for dogs,” she adds.

About building social connection, Renee Hermosa agrees, “The walkers, that’s the big thing. All the people who walk their dogs. That’s the best thing.”

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