Neighborhoods - Gems of the Atlanta neighborhood listserv

Keeping tabs on gun-loving grammar snobs, coyotes, and more

Illo Listserv Teaser
Photo credit: Illustration by Rachel Hortman

"So much coyote drama on the listserv," my friend Chelsea tells me via text message, and not for the first time. Between a Facebook group, Yahoo Group, and a social media platform called Nextdoor, there are myriad ways to hear about coyotes from people you live near. (Which is how we will describe this era of connectedness to our grandchildren, silently, by Snapchatting them with our brains.)

According to something I read on the Internet, Reynoldstown is famous — famous! — for being a place where people can live peacefully with coyotes, but that détente isn't always unanimous. As the animals' encroachment on urban areas remains steady — raising the question of who is doing the encroaching — coyotes are a contentious topic among my neighbors, if recent Facebook posts with heated comment sections are any indication. (Thus far the neighborhood Instagram and Twitter feeds have remained silent on the issue.) There really ought to be a drinking game — "Someone mentioned coyotes in an unrelated Facebook thread! Drink!"

In an age where we find everything from estate sales to sexual partners online, it's no surprise that we're also meeting our neighbors in these digital spaces. By now the so-called "useful insanity" of the listserv is familiar to most city dwellers with a certain amount of civic intention and an email address.

Every Monday I get an email reminding me to put my trash and recycling by the curb. I've seen Reynoldstown's social media group reunite missing pets with grateful owners, and help homeowners with attic possums or yards that need mowing. On its best days, the listserv does more than peddle in practical niceties. A recent Facebook thread detailed how nice the moon looked. I've heard that coyotes like a nice moon. Drink.

Each neighborhood social media network offers a snapshot of its respective community — Inman Park's has lots of yard sales and, in the past, talk of neighborhood geese and leaf blowers. Recent Reynoldstown fodder includes an alleged streaker with "a face tattoo of three flames with dollar signs in them." In Adair Park, neighbors alert each other about stray or escaped dogs, trade or barter items, and ask for nearby suggestions of where to eat.

But community listservs can also be home to such stock characters as "racist woman" and "guns solve crime guy," as well as history's greatest monster, the racist gun-loving grammar snob. Let's just say I've rubbernecked on enough contentious comment threads to get text messages when coyote drama heats up. These social media webs are funny, if incomplete, community microcosms. Access to computers and smartphones has increased but there's still an element of privilege in being part of online conversations. And not everyone wants to spend all that time in front of a screen.

Reynoldstown is a working-class community dating back to the 1860s that was one of Atlanta's first African-American neighborhoods. My neighbor Phil Hart has lived in the house next-door to the one I rent his whole life, since the 1960s. He knows everyone in the neighborhood. When it's warm out, he and I spend not-insignificant time discussing the stray cat soap opera that plays out on our street. (We suspect a love gone wrong between Brown Cat and Mean Cat.)

He used to play football on our street when he was a kid, after the kids older than him went to Vietnam. He and his friends would climb the bridge and watch workers twist bread dough in a bakery where the Edgewood Retail District now stands.

Phil is the most Reynoldstown person I know. "This is Atlanta to me," he says of the neighborhood. Though he's gotten some business from the listserv — he's a plumber, and an excellent one — Phil doesn't use it himself. He talks to people instead. When someone moves in on the street, Phil makes a point to say hello while they're unloading boxes.

Phil has thoughts about time capsules. His would include a photograph of the stars as seen from his front yard. Sometimes I wonder what aliens will make of our civilization based on the weird non-paper trail we're leaving online. What kind of primary sources are we giving future historians? ("They had so many strong feelings about coyotes!" "Drink!") Neighborhood social media gives us a new way to interact with and form community, but these networks also create incomplete pictures of places. What are we building with all these words over 1s and 0s?

Coyotes travel in packs, and have been here a long time. "They like to sing at night," one man wrote on the listserv. "When they tune up, it sounds like the soundtrack of an old western movie." So far no one's uploaded audio.

Brooke Hatfield is already worried about how this piece is going to go over on the listserv.