Phillip Bost doesn’t live in Durham any more, but he has an ongoing connection with the Bull City: his website Durham Hoods (nando.com/-m).
As the name might imply, Durham Hoods is a directory – or a “hub,” to use Bost’s own terminology – of neighborhoods and their email lists, or “listservs.”
Want to know what neighborhood you live in? Find your location on the site’s Durham County map and click – you’re in Heather Glen, or Five Oaks, or Penrith. And so on.
Want to get in touch with your neighbors? Click on your neighborhood’s name from the list and you get a link to its email list and website, if they exist, and in some cases to its history
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Want to get in touch with your neighboring neighborhoods? Follow the same procedure. Or just go exploring and you might find out about some neighborhoods that existed once, but no more – Brookstown, for example
“It’s just kind of a pet project that I still work on,” Bost said. “This has been kind of a vehicle for discovery.”
Durham Hoods went live in early 2011 with about 60 neighborhoods linked. It’s up to about 170 now, Bost said, and he has begun adding maps and links for the city’s five Partners Against Crime (PAC) districts.
“In a way, if you were thinking, Hey, they just invented the telephone, wouldn’t it be neat to have a thick book arrive on your porch – you’d like to know people’s numbers,” said Bill Anderson, one of Bost’s former Duke Park neighbors. “It’s just that for the listservs.”
Bost said Durham Hoods gets anywhere from 50 to 300 visits a day, most from first-time users looking for their own neighborhoods who come once and never again.
“That’s great; they’re using it for the tool it is,” he said.
When he noticed that many were using his site to link to their PACs, he started drawing interactive PAC district maps.
“Which I’m still working on,” he said. So far, only PAC 1, eastern Durham, is done.
Bost now lives in Winston-Salem, where his wife, Erin McKee, is a Wake Forest law student. He describes himself as a “laboratory scientist” in toxicology – no authority on web design or coding.
But when, as a Durham resident, he went web surfing for a map of Durham neighborhoods and couldn’t find one, he decided to do his own, he said.
“I knew what neighborhood I lived in but I didn’t know what my adjacent neighborhoods were,” Bost said. “There was no tool that I could find that could answer that question.”
Besides curiosity, Bost had the idea that residents of one neighborhood might like to know what was going on in another, or might need to communicate across neighborhood lines in cases of emergency.
“The site provides us with another tool that can be useful in locating a call for service,” said Jim Soukup, director of the Durham Emergency Call Center. “All methods that have the potential to make a difference are useful.”
Bost has found Durham Hoods to be an interactive experience in more ways than pointing and clicking.
“Once the website launched and a lot more people started visiting, I got a lot of emails ... telling me, ‘Hey, why isn’t my neighborhood on the list?’ or, ‘Hey, you got these borders wrong.’
“At that point it became a community-driven project. It wasn’t just my baby any more,” he said.
InterNeighborhood Council President Philip Azar said Durham Hoods is a community asset “and any enhancements are a plus.
“I would hope any neighborhood stakeholder, influencer or actor ... would use the site as part of a community outreach effort,” Azar said, but added a caveat.
“Neighborhoods may use virtual tools ... but neighborhoods also very much exist on the ground,” he said. “Durham Hoods is such a good site that it can add to a user’s temptation to think that a neighborhood’s virtual presence is a more accurate reflection of the neighborhood than is the case.”
In case someone elsewhere cares to make similar connections, Bost has posted his data and coding at the open site github (nando.com/hoods). He and his wife have also just developed new site: an interactive guide to voting regulations in all 50 states: nando.com/bostid.
Bost and his wife were looking for “a map that clearly, succinctly showed us which states required what type of ID,” he said. “The tool we wanted didn’t exist yet, so we decided let’s make it.”
He said he expects it will be a better product than Durham Hoods. “More important,” Bost said.
Not that he’s planning to let Durham Hoods go any time soon.
“It’s still being used,” Bost said, “and as long as it’s being used I’m going to continue to update it.”