Building blocks

One neighborhood’s experience using a block party to build community

block party
The Oakley Avenue Community—as they are now calling themselves—had their first block party on June 23. They are already planning more neighborhood events and get-togethers. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
by Adam Barker

LANSING, Ill. (June 29, 2018) – Early this year, my wife Alli and I began thinking about a block party—what a great way to build relationships with neighbors we’ve lived next to for years but have never met! Having never organized a block party before, we learned a lot along the way. This article will share our experience in the hope of inspiring similar community-building efforts throughout Lansing.

The initial spark

We knew that for this to be a true community event, the community needed to have ownership of it, so we approached a few neighbors with the idea. Mike and Alissa, good friends two blocks down from us, were the first to get on board. Denarius and Alex, who live next door to us, and Maria and Paul, a few houses down, were happy to be involved. Colleen joined us a bit later, and this became our planning group.

block party
Denarius and Alex were among the neighbors who helped plan the block party. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Over the course of four months we met in each other’s homes five or six times to plan the event. For some neighborhoods it might not be necessary to have this many planning meetings, but we found them to be helpful because they allowed us to have multiple voices involved in the process. Just as important, the meetings gave us an opportunity to get to know each other. We learned that we all want deeper, richer community in our neighborhood, and it was fun to talk about ways to make that happen. When the day of our block party arrived, deeper community was already developing among the nine of us, meaning that even if the party was a flop, it couldn’t be a failure. Its purpose had already been achieved in the planning!

The necessary approval

We were thrilled to find out that the village makes it very easy for residents to throw a block party. The instructions were readily available on the village website, and all that was required of us was to have at least half of the neighbors on the block sign a petition (also available online) granting us permission to use the street.

block party
An invitation was distributed to let neighbors know about the block party.

The neighborhood’s response

In fact, we were very encouraged that not only our block, but our entire neighborhood, was excited about the party. As we went door-to-door distributing the invitations we had created (something we recommend doing), again and again our neighbors expressed excitement. Several commented that in the years they’ve lived in our neighborhood, nothing like this has happened, and they were thrilled that it finally was!

The big day

On Saturday, June 23, dozens of neighbors came out and enjoyed a beautiful day together. We learned one another’s names, heard one another’s stories, and become one another’s friends. Our planning group provided hot dogs and hamburgers while the rest of the neighborhood brought sides dishes, desserts, and drinks. We couldn’t have imagined our first neighborhood event going any better! We’ve already planned the next one, and we are excited for what the summer holds in what we’re calling the “Oakley Avenue Community.”

block party
Frank Somodi, Alissa Bolz, and Gloria Chavez-Gomez greeted neighbors and made new friends at the block party welcome table. (Photo: Adam Barker)
block party
Everyone was encouraged to contribute side dishes, desserts, and drinks, while the planning committee grilled hot dogs and hamburgers for all. (Photo: Adam Barker)

Building community

One thing that became clear throughout our experience is that great neighborhoods are made up of great neighbors. Community is built by people in the community. It can’t be outsourced or delegated—the responsibility and opportunity is ours.

So if you are wondering why your neighborhood has never had a block party—it could be that your neighborhood is waiting for you to start planning it!

 

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