My street held a block party this past Sunday. This is the third year for our daylong neighborhood fest. Each year it gets bigger and each year people on the street make new connections and get to know each other better. Almost every house on the street rolls out a feast and a grill. The savory smells wafting off our little block fill the surrounding streets (too bad for them). One neighbor brings out a full stage full of amplifiers and lighting and puts on a mini music festival. The day is filled with dancing, eating, and playing from noon to almost midnight. The kids talk about the party all year long. To them it is equivalent to another of those major kids’ holidays like Christmas. They look at you wide eyed with astonishment when told they can play all day in the street. “Really? We can go in the street?”
The street and the absence of cars is what makes the party work and what makes it wonderful. The street is closed and all the parked cars are moved, erasing a big divide and turning back a big chunk of the city to actual people. During events like this It really becomes evident how big of a price we pay for the supposed convenience of cars. The absence of cars on the street allowed neighbors to bond. It gave kids room to run and meet the kids on the other side of the street. Elimination of the cars also gave a new power to the residents of the street – the power of a united group.
This year a minor event occurred when a gang crew decided to cruise the party with their comical underwear fashions and laboriously exaggerated street saunter. Our neighborhood is not a gang area but recently we have been treated to the presence of the loser set (and their tagging) via a new section 8 building a few blocks away which has attracted a small group of lowlifes. The group of teens started hanging at the party with threatening posturing and various hand signals. The neighbors quickly reacted by calling police and coalescing around the gang. Probably 15 neighbors of all types surrounded the 6 teens and one inebriated older hanger-on and let them know that this was not a gang neighborhood and that they were not welcome to bring gang activity to the area. The gang-bangers did not expect this and were noticeably intimidated. They left. Afterward I met several more of my neighbors as we discussed the incident. One of them, I found out, was with the police and has been keeping tabs on the gang. We all exchanged numbers and emails and will now have the the power of our combined phone-tree influence in getting city response to neighborhood needs.
You cannot underestimate the power of a group of neighbors to make a place better. Get out there. Meet your neighbor. Organize a street-wide yard sale. Form a block club. Get the cars off the street for a day and have a party. Make the city yours!