forget dinner, have a block party

Leland Avenue Street Fair Photo by VVBOOM

Did you know that parties are important for communities?

I was recently reviewing a tool used to measure the health of the communities. One of the items measured is the number of block parties held in a neighborhood.

Not long after I came to San Francico I participated in the testing of the Healthy Development Measurement Tool. Yes, the name is a mouth-full, but it is to-the-point. Developed by the San Francisco Department of Health, the tool uses a number of metrics to determine if a development, as proposed, will contribute to or harm the health of a community. These types of tools, in the category of health impact assessments, have been getting more traction in communities, in the US and internationally, as residents try to quantify the expected and/or touted outcomes of new development. It gives community members a way evaluate projects in their neighborhood and compare with the rest of the city or even state or national averages.

I was looking through the tool recently and discovered that one of the metrics (called indicators in the tool) is “Number of neighborhood block party permits”. This indicator comes under the Social Cohesion portion (called elements) of the tool.

The SF tool also has measurements of items like average proximity to a large grocery store, amount of park space per person in a neighborhood, and electricity usage per household among its 125 indicators. The tool also gives residents a snapshot of the existing conditions in their neighborhood using quantifiable data. This can be useful for advocacy work. The San Francisco tool has maps that people can use to compare one neighborhood to another.

Block partiesBack to the block party measurement: I found it a really interesting way to measure the connectedness of community. I remember visiting a friend in Washington DC and her housemate was busy organizing a block party for their street. I imagine a lot of coordination and communication is required among neighbors. I have helped with our neighborhood street fair, but in the explanation of the indicator they specifically exclude these. The focus is on an event small enough to get people to met their neighbors but that also requires some bureaucratic logistics and planning to get a street closure permit. Usually these are all volunteer efforts, while a street or neighborhood festival may have paid staff leading the work.

Leland Avenue Street Fair Photo by VVBOOM

I wanted to learn more about the start of the friend’s DC block party, so look for a follow up post with an interview.

Is there a regular block party that you attend or help organize? How has it brought your community together?

3 Responses to “forget dinner, have a block party”

  1. I once lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in a condo complex in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As it happened the cul-de-sac had a turning circle that was a separate loop of road that had the areas large retention pond on the west side and a large grassy island in the middle. A couple of neighbors chatted about getting together one spring evening. Flyers were distributed to about a dozen residences nearest the location. On the designated evening lawn chairs and folding tables were brought out. Food was brought for sharing from several different cultures. Those with instruments brought them and played. Children chased bubbles. Parents chased children and much joy was had in the evening sun.

    This happened several times that summer. Later it was discovered that the folks across the retention pond saw this un-permitted activity and wanted in on it. Now the complex has formalized this party and moves it about from place to place in the complex. The area is university related and has a high population turnover. Most of the original participants have moved away.I recently returned to visit friends who were still there. A version of the party was scheduled and I attended. The joy in the community continues but it shines from new faces.

    I suppose the moral of this little story is that the openness of a few can have a big impact on the quality of life for the many!

    • It’s always great when community takes the initiative and sees the benefit of togetherness and then fosters it regularly. Thanks for sharing.