If you have ever participated in a Block Party, then you know how much fun they can be. Sometimes they are small and informal, and sometimes they are huge affairs with parades, bands, and fireworks. It all depends on the neighbourhood. Some neighbourhoods enjoy them so much that they continue to have them year after year. At least that’s been our experience.
In St. Albert, a small city of 61 466, Block Parties are a key neighbourhood development strategy. Not only are they a fun, they are an easy way to connect with neighbours, build new friendships, foster a sense of belonging, and ultimately create safer neighbourhoods. In fact, safety was the initial driver behind the whole Block Party strategy.
It all started in 2005 when 75 St. Albert citizens attended a forum organized by the Task Force on Vandalism. The goal of the forum was to come up with St. Albert solutions to vandalism. Many ideas emerged from this forum, including Block Parties. A sub-committee was eventually formed to focus on crime prevention and community cohesiveness through neighbourhood Block Parties. This committee had humble beginnings with two parties being organized in 2007 in targeted neighbourhoods. This was a great learning experience, and since then the initiative really picked up momentum.
Between 2008 and 2011 a number of steps were taken to encourage citizens to have Block Parties:
· A partnership was formed between the City of St. Albert Family and Community Support Services, Neighbourhood Watch and Citzens’ Patrol in 2008.
· Neighbourhood Watch and Citizens’ Patrol agreed to provide free hamburgers, hot dogs and buns to any neighbourhood hosting a block party in exchange for distributing a crime prevention flyer that lists crimes specific to their street as well as crime prevention tips.
· A Block Party Guide was created as a “how-to” resource for citizens and posted on-line.
· In 2009 the St. Albert City Council proclaimed June to be Block Party Month in St. Albert. They have made this proclamation every year since.
· The Mayor provides continued support for the initiative by visiting parties or sending a personal hand-written thank you note to the citizens who organize the parties.
· Neighbourhood Watch and Citizens’ Patrol donated new pylons in 2010 to replace city barricades used to close streets for Block Parties. This resulted in the elimination of the $35 permit fee for city street barricades.
These steps in combination with more advertising and word-of-mouth, resulted in the number of registered Block Parties growing to a whopping 68 parties in 2011! There was even a winter Block Party, a trend we hope will continue.
But this is not the end of the story. In February 2012, all of the people who organized Block Parties in 2011 were invited to a Conversation Cafe. The purpose of the cafe was to thank them for helping to create safe and caring neighbourhoods and to help the City learn from their experiences. A handful of people were expected, maybe a dozen. Wouldn’t you know, 35 enthusiastic Block Party organizers attended! The atmosphere was electric. The ideas, energy and desire to talk and share with one another was overwhelming. Participants were asked to talk about the unexpected spin-offs of their parties, the benefits of being connected to their neighbours, and how to stay connected beyond yearly block parties. As the evening came to a close a next step became clear (see below). The group expressed interest in forming a network that would allow them to continue connecting and sharing between streets and neighbourhoods. Several people volunteered to be part of developing this network. They met for the first time in May and the Neighbourhood Network was born.
What’s next for St. Albert? More fun. The goal for 2012 is 100 parties! This may seem like a lofty goal, but ultimately it’s not the number of parties that matter, it’s the fact that neighbours are connecting and beginning to see the possibilities that can come out of a connected community. And with the formation of the Neighbourhood Network who knows what great new ideas will emerge for the future.
And what do the community members think?
“The new connections in my neighbourhood led to neighbours being more helpful with one another. For example helping one another with snow shoveling."
"Since our block party, we have begun meeting more regularly in people’s homes.”
~quotes from Conversation Café participants
Participants felt that the benefits of being more connected included:
· Neighbours sharing information on job opportunities.
· Easier resolution of neighbourhood conflicts.
Ways to stay connected:
· Hold special events throughout the year (i.e. pumpkin carving, snowman building, glow in the dark sledding)
· Use technology such as e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.
What about you?
How does your community stay connected? Why?
What are the individual and collective benefits of neighbourhood connections?
Which methods does your community use to connect more intentionally, more deeply?
JOIN THE CONVERSATION! Check out the Family, Friends and Neighbours group for more on these and other questions from the July Seekers Journal.