By SU BACON
Special to The Star
Garage door openers.
All keep neighbors inside and away from each other.
Block parties bring them back together. Janet Canseco of the Pinecrest subdivision in Parkville has seen it happen.
“The first thing we noticed was that kids who went to separate schools — some to private, some to public — played together the rest of the summer,” Canseco said.
It was a block party some 15 years ago that brought neighborhood students together and the event proved so popular with residents of all ages that the Pinecrest block party has become a summer tradition in the southern Platte County community of about 65 households.
Such parties are becoming increasingly popular in the Northland, said Deb Hermann, chief executive officer of Northland Neighborhoods Inc., because the streets of block parties do what sidewalks in small towns did years ago.
That’s where neighbors once passed each other daily on their way to the grocery store, post office, cafe or bank. But in cities and suburbs, neighbors now leave homes in cars to shop, eat and do business at a wide variety of places that aren’t within walking distance of their homes. The cost of convenience has been the loss of camaraderie.
“Block parties create opportunities for people to get to know each other,” Hermann said. “When people know each other, they’re glad to help each other.”
Like the kids of Pinecrest, once neighbors meet, they tend to like each other.
The best part of the block party, Canseco said, is “reconnecting with all the neighbors.”
The Pincrest block party typically draws 200 to 250 people — not only residents and guests but also the mayor and other city, county and state officials. Firefighters, police officers, the letter carrier, street crews and the trash hauler also are included: “All who serve our community are invited to come have dinner with us,” she said. “It’s all about building community spirit and relationships.”
The theme of year’s block party on June 8 was “Going Global.” Residents wore vacation T-shirts or caps and Canseco’s cul-de-sac, where the party takes place, was decked out with old road maps, flags, globes and travel-themed decorations.
Cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets are often used for such events because traffic tends to be low there. Party organizers still need to check with officials for a permit to close off a portion of a road, recommended Matthew Kosmatka, neighborhood services coordinator for the city of Gladstone.
“They should also contact the community development department, as some cities may be able to offer some assistance to neighborhoods that are holding block parties,” he said.
The summer Olympic games in London was the inspiration for the Bolling Heights Olympics party last July. The block party featured an opening ceremony, complete with running of the torch, said Julie Sherbo, president of the the Bolling Heights Neighborhood Association.
“We had water games for the kids and everyone went home with at least one gold medal,” Sherbo said.
Bolling Heights is a Gladstone subdivision of 405 households east of North Oak Trafficway with a mixture of homeowners, renters, longtime residents and new, younger families.
“We have good attendance when we plan a family event and even our senior citizens come out to enjoy the events,” Sherbo said.
For this year’s block party later this summer, organizers expect a visit by the Kansas City Zoo’s Zoomobile.
The Greenhaven subdivision on the east side of the Antioch Shopping Center in Kansas City, North, has been enjoying spring and fall block parties since 1987, when the neighborhood association was organized.
The association cooks hot dogs and hamburgers and residents bring a potluck dish to share. Typically, about 40 people from the 100 homes in Greenhaven will attend, said Richard Sayles, president of the association.
Games and door prize drawings are offered for adults and children.
“We don’t always get to see our neighbors,” Sayles said. “The block parties give us a chance to get together and visit with each other.”