photo 1bIMG_3043bWhen you organize your first block party your life will never be the same again. Sure, there’s the pleasure of the occasion… The tranquillity of a traffic-free street, children scooting madly and merrily up and down the hill, neighbors at ease with each other in a neutral space, the satisfaction of success at the end of the day. But after the big day, the effects go on and on… More familiar and friendly faces on the block, more cooperation and help, more trust and understanding.

This is a taste of how reclaiming our streets transforms our lives, making us happier and more connected.

No matter how many block parties you’ve been involved with, you learn more with every occasion. Our last block party this past weekend was no exception. Here are some observations and lessons to apply to your next block party…

All together now!

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Bringing everyone together for our first big group photo was a powerful moment. This is a snapshot of a better world, where neighbors spend more time together out in common space.

This photo will be a treasure for us all for many years to come. We can use it as a mirror to hold up to ourselves and show that we are a community. It’ll frame the block party as a truly special occasion. And it’ll attract more people to get involved.

Mixing the generations

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Roger (left) holds Asa, the new son of our neighbors Arianna (middle) and Matt (right).

A little earlier, I’d had a great conversation with the below two girls who are neighbors from around the corner…

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They were smart, funny, and engaging. What an enjoyable conversation.

Starved as we often are of contact between the generations, block parties are ideal opportunities for all ages to mix. The young share their fresh energy and enthusiasm, the older share their wisdom and encouragement. It’s a satisfying experience for us all.

An opportunity to contribute

IMG_3047Our neighbor Larry usually runs the block party barbecue. However, at the last minute Larry got the flu, so Silke (left) and Alphonzo (right) jumped in and took over. And before and after the event, our block’s email list lit up with neighbors claiming responsibility for bulk food buying, moving barricades, returning lost items to their rightful owners, and so on. We formed many bonds just by working together on this one event.

I love this about block parties: They provide opportunities for people to contribute to their community. A sense of responsibility and purpose in one’s community can make us all happier.

Building new bridges

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How often do you think “That neighbor wouldn’t want to talk to me” without even attempting a conversation? Our block party helped many of us break those walls down.

Juan (left) lives directly across the street to me. I’ve seen him many times and yet this was the first time we’d spoken. And he’s the nicest guy! How pleasant it was to sit down with him and get to know him better.

A movie theater on your own street

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Alphonzo and Dennis, who own The Little Lodge art space at the bottom of the block, organized an after-dark block party screening of The Empire Strikes Back (heard of it?). They got a lot of people to show up. We passed around snacks as the movie played, thoroughly enjoying using our street as a movie theater.

Some elements at a block party are sensitive to precise placement. Our previous movie screening had been located a third of a block further away from the above-pictured intersection. But this time, having the screening right next to the intersection brought a lot more people in who had just been walking by. The atmosphere was much improved.

These passersby were excited to see the street used in an unconventional way. That’s also a powerful aspect of block parties: Helping people to envision streets as places for many different kinds of social activities, not just for driving through.

Many ways to enjoy the day

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Many folks, such as our neighbors above, were happy just to sit on their front steps and enjoy the scene. Block parties enable people to experience the day in a way that’s comfortable for them. Some neighbors enjoy the busy conversation next to the barbecue, others like sitting on their stoop and enjoy a calmer day. That’s why block parties are so inclusive: they offer many ways for people to enjoy the day.

Until next time…

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(My neighbor Allen, above, tells me that his dog Teddy gets photographed at least once a day, so now I’ve joined the club!)

For a couple of days after every block party there’s a warm glow of satisfaction where we all feel good about what we shared. And then life goes on. But each block party brings a little more change. More of us know each other, we’re more confident to reach out and communicate, we’re a little better at working together. And, most of all, we’re a happier community.

Bring on the next block party!