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Block Party NYC

2008 was the kickoff for BlockParty NYC, a new on-line initiative to promote block parties in the five boroughs.   The site helps you plan your own block party or find and existing parties near you so that you can enjoy a day free from the usual hazards of a car-filled street. You can also apply for a mini grant to throw a party, but you better hurry since the deadline is fast approaching.

To celebrate block parties we created this mini film.  Last year Streetfilms visited many parties and talked to residents about their streets and life without the automobile.  We were also able to talk to urban planners, community figures like Majora Carter, historians, and NYC photographer, Rebecca Lepkoff.

<blockquote class="_text"> [music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Nathan John:</cite> [0:12] Block parties are a great tradition. It is kind of found all over the country and maybe even the world but definitely they have a particular tradition in New York. Groups are residents just closing down their block. And really just the people or neighbors coming together and turning their block into a communal public state for the duration of the day. [0:37] With block party what we see and what we really wanted to try and do is revive and reinvigorate the block party tradition in New York. It is something that really had a lot of life in the early 20th century and really all the way up through the post World War II period and then they kind of inexplicably died out in the 80's and 90's. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Suzanne Wasserman:</cite> [0:54] What happened over the years is that and this happened under the Koch administration is that the red tape became so onerous and so difficult to negotiate that middle men came in and whole companies grew out. They would go to the non profits and say, look, we'll file all the paper work for you. You don't have to do anything but you have to give us 25% of your profits. [1:17] So the nonprofits preceded into invisibility because they don't even show up. But if you walk through a street fair these days, you have no idea who is sponsoring it because the nonprofit isn't even there. Unfortunately, it's created a situation where the vendors are all the same. For example the middle man will give a break to a vendor who signs up for 20 street fairs.</p><p>[1:43] So the vendor will show up. The guy who sells the rappers or the woman who sells the socks will show up at 20 street fairs. So you see the same vendors and it just becomes uniform and cookie cutter and boring. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_3_text"> <cite class="speaker_3" >Speaker:</cite> [1:58] I did not know what it was about until I came down. I heard the noise and then came down. It was a very pleasant surprise that it wasn't a commercial deal. I was afraid maybe it was going to be one of those tube socks, you know? But no it's...these people. I can't believe I'm sitting on grass in the middle of my block. [music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_4_text"> <cite class="speaker_4" >Speaker:</cite> [2:22] We love 87th Street. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Nathan John:</cite> [2:29] 2008 was the first year that we launched block party NYC. And we sponsored 27 block parties around New York City. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_5_text"> <cite class="speaker_5" >Mark Gorton:</cite> [2:37] This is West 87th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam. We are having a block party today and it is a hot, wonderful day. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_6_text"> <cite class="speaker_6" >Speaker:</cite> [2:46] Our block association is park place here in Prospect Heights. We do this block party every year because it is a community event. It brings our neighbors all out. People look forward to it. They know we are going to sell plants. They know we are going to have free market tables. And the kids love that we get the cars off the block and gives them a day to just really ride free on their boards and on their bikes. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_7_text"> <cite class="speaker_7" >Speaker:</cite> [3:07] I'm with the 58 1645 MacDon Street Block Association and I have held various positions with the association since I moved here in 1986. Our block party served as a point of bringing new neighbors together, refocusing with the old neighbors because priorities change as the years change. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_6_text"> <cite class="speaker_6" >Erin Jarvis:</cite> [3:27] Here at Veron's point, Veron's and welcome to our block party with the trees emphasizing healthy living and physical activity. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_8_text"> <cite class="speaker_8" >Aquila Lopez:</cite> [3:35] Hi, my name is Aquila Lopez. I am from Razi's neighborhood federation and today we are hosting a block party for the street. It is an event that we do every year. We try to close the street down. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Nathan John:</cite> [3:44] Our goal with block party might seem giving those mini grants was to give people the tools and the opportunity to create those connections on a block and hopefully they build on those connections long after the party is over. They still know their neighbors and are able to move forward and take action on the issues that concern them. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Majora Carter:</cite> [4:01] There aren't necessarily many public spaces in the community. So we have to create them as we can and the block party is always a perfect excuse to do that. While we are working on creating the green way network that will go through the south Bronx. Before that happens we want to do as many of these projects as we can. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_8_text"> <cite class="speaker_8" >Nathan John:</cite> [4:17] We put together a great website, <a href="http://blockpartynyc.org/" >blockpartynyc.org</a>. And on that website, you can find all of the relevant regulations pertaining the block parties like how do you apply for one, who do you talk to? How much does it cost? As well as more specific stuff for first time planners like how many people does it take to plan a block party or what kind of activity do kids really enjoy? How do I get a group of people together to organize this? </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_9_text"> <cite class="speaker_9" >Speaker:</cite> [4:42] It is perfect for my baby. She can just hang out on the street and be comfortable and be cool and it is really beautiful. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_8_text"> <cite class="speaker_8" >Speaker:</cite> [4:50] I think it just makes the more relaxed. The city is very tense and this just helps. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_10_text"> <cite class="speaker_10" >Child:</cite> [4:56] We have lemonade stands. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_11_text"> <cite class="speaker_11" >Speaker:</cite> [4:58] We may sit because we used to have a long time ago. This is a great way of getting to know your neighbors. The kids have a place to play, and running the bike. Like this morning, they were running back-and-forth. You don't see that often. It is so dangerous to get the kids out on a bike. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_12_text"> <cite class="speaker_12" >Speaker:</cite> [5:15] I want you to lock the bike like this, really fast, and try to roll along on it as long as you can. Once you can roll a nice long ways without putting that foot down, put your pedals back on. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_13_text"> <cite class="speaker_13" >Child:</cite> [5:27] It was great. I learned how to do a bike. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Nathan John:</cite> [5:32] We offer small monetary grants to neighbors around New York to help them procure games, food, whatever. I think that it is going to make their block party more fun. In addition to that, we really try to reach out to communities that might be facing traffic problems or just problems on your street, design problems, speeding traffic, unsafe streets, and we brought a professional urban planner out to the block. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Jessica Brown:</cite> [5:58] We're getting surveys from neighbors talking about what they like about their streets, and how they could make them stronger. We are talking with the neighborhood organizations that are putting on the events to see what they think the major issues are, and just try and see if there is consensus around that in their neighborhoods, so that they can take some action. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_14_text"> <cite class="speaker_14" >Speaker:</cite> [6:17] More public seating? </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Speaker:</cite> [6:18] Yes. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_14_text"> <cite class="speaker_14" > Speaker:</cite> [6:20] More public art? </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" > Speaker:</cite> [6:23] Yes. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Jessica Brown:</cite> [6:23] So, when I think about a complete street, I think about a place that's not just for cars, but one that is for people also. So you could ride your bike on it, feel safe. Or you could walk down the street, across the street and play ball maybe. What do you guys like to do when you're out in the street? </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_15_text"> <cite class="speaker_15" >Child:</cite> [6:38] Ride my bike. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Jessica Brown:</cite> [6:39] You like to ride your bike. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_16_text"> <cite class="speaker_16" >Erin Jarvis:</cite> [6:40] We picked this day for the block party and the block party itself to really bring the community out together, bring them outside to enjoy the beginning of the summer. [6:49] We picked this day specifically, because it's New York City's "It's My Park Day" and we really wanted to promote taking back the sidewalks and streets as a place where you can safely play. Your kids can go outside. They don't have to worry about any hazardous or safety issues. They can just have a day to celebrate, and have fun outside. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Nathan John:</cite> [7:08] That's another thing that we want to do with the Block Party Program is really help people remember that this is this great tradition in New York of neighbors coming out, and just really being neighbors together. [music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_17_text"> <cite class="speaker_17" >Speaker:</cite> [7:23] In the '40s and '50s, us kids, we were having a ball. The kids were running around in the streets. The Germans came out with potato salad. We came out with pasta, the Italians. Over here, Russians here, we as a community. Each block was like a village, a private community. We were all over here. The kids would have skates, scooters. We had a ball, and it was a village. We was together, and friend of mine in them days. [7:46] Now, this is very good for economic reasons, people want to clean out their house, this, that, everybody makes a few dollars, people get together, it's a fun thing. It's a loop, but in the old days, it was really something.</p><p>[music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Suzanne Wasserman:</cite> [8:01] At the turn of the century and through the first decades of the 20th Century, people did really live on the street. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_18_text"> <cite class="speaker_18" >Rebecca Lepkoff:</cite> [8:07] It was like a stage, there was not a matter of choosing. It was all there, but people would sit on the stoops. The women would be talking, they would be shopping. The stores had all the Yiddish letterings on. People would sit at the window and talk. They would water their flowers, wash the windows. It was very lively. It was just like going out and shooting a show that was an ongoing show. [music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Nathan John:</cite> [8:45] So, for the first time in nearly 30 years, you have a city of beaurocracy, and a city government that's really being proactive about looking for ways to balance New York City's streets and to find space on them, not only for the automobiles, but also for the people that really even make New York City what it is. [9:03] And to figure out, how can we be fair with our space? There is this great statistic that New York City's streets and sidewalks compose 80% of its public space, right there, most of our available public space. Our city is all built up, so most of the public space that we've got is really locked up on our streets and sidewalks.</p><p>[9:20] So, if we want to make this city a livable place for the eight million people that inhabit it, we have to think creatively about how to use our streets, and block parties are really part of that.</p><p>[9:30] Last summer, "Summer Streets" was a success that got a lot of worldwide attention as hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers poured out of their houses to bike, and rollerblade, and stroll, and just hang out together on 13 miles of closed boulevard.</p><p>[9:48] For us, at TA and the Renaissance, block parties are really a part of that. It's really the small scale local version of that big grand celebration of car free streets, and so we want to encourage that. It's just one more way to kind of help New Yorkers wakeup to the potential that is on these streets all around them.</p><p>[music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_19_text"> <cite class="speaker_19" >Nathan John:</cite> [10:12] The great things about block parties is that it is never too late. I mean, there are communities around New York that have block parties in October for Halloween or November for Feast Day. </blockquote> <br/><br/>
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