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Block parties are community builders | Guest Column
“There’s no place like home,” murmurs Dorothy in the 1939 movie classic “The Wizard of Oz.” Young Dorothy understood the importance of family, friends and community. Yet in today’s mobile society, families and friends frequently live in different states and different counties. The resulting cultural shift can lead to emotional isolation, loneliness and loss of community. There are currently seven billion people on the planet, a plethora of communication devices and, yet in a modern society, we are lonely. How can this be?
It is because we are social creatures; we crave strong social connections for our well-being. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, and yet Seattle is widely considered one of the most relationally stunted areas of the country (according to a Seattle Times Pacific Northwest Magazine article, “Our Social Disease”). We struggle with initiating relationships and yet we’re starved for a sense of community. This begs the question, “How do we create a sense of community and build positive relationships for our mutual well-being?”
A solution is right outside the front door. Your neighborhood is filled with people who have many things in common with you. The key is finding out these specifics. A quick way to make these discoveries is to have a block party. Block parties bring people and families together. They can be the catalyst that shifts the neighborhood values to one where making friends and building a strong community is a shared culture. Unlike other types of parties you may give, at a block party you won’t have to do all the cooking — because it is designed as a potluck, so everyone brings food to share. What a relief! But where does one begin?
Start by creating and printing the “Block Party Invitation Flier.” Next, take an evening stroll around the neighborhood and hand them out to all your neighbors and friends. For more fun and an icebreaker, take the children and the dog with you, too. We love personal invitations, don’t you?
You will be amazed at how well people respond to invitations to share a dish, participate in an activity and have a safe, fun environment for their children to play. So make sure plan some icebreaker games for the adults and games or contests for the children. The more inclusive the activities, the more the rewarding and socially enriching it is for everyone.
The key to a successful party is to get everyone talking. The good news is conversation openers are countless when food, children and games are around — so don’t be shy! Seize the moment and pick someone out of the crowd and say “hello.” When people relax and engage in conversations, there are significant opportunities to forge relationships and friendships between neighbors and families so that further activities can be pursued. Like what? Well, you could start a community beautification project, create a phone directory for your neighborhood and hand it out, start a small group with your neighbors, do yard work together, put on a garage sale together, go on lots of walks, organize a date night or babysitting exchange, or host an emergency preparedness seminar in your home.
The benefits of knowing your neighbors and being integrated in a community are widely known. Successful communities show higher levels of interdependence because people know that they can count on each other. Like having someone to come over in case of an emergency or having someone to call to watch the house when you are on vacation. By opening lines of communication, neighbors are open for neighborhood projects, are more apt to engage in disaster preparedness plans and will be supportive of neighborhood crime watches. If your block party is held in conjunction with National Night Out Against Crime (held annually in August), there can be the added effort to promote involvement in crime-prevention activities, police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie, which will send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and engaged.
Most of all, a block party is a great opportunity to have fun and enjoy your neighbors, to get to know each other and build a real neighborhood, which is home, because there really is “no place like home.”
Sharon Brocker is a Redmond resident and Kyle Reynolds is an Issaquah resident.