Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

January 9, 2013

A springtime of block parties

Nathan Harter
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — About 20 years ago, when Karin and I first arrived in Greensburg, we participated in a block party on Lathrop Street.

Looking back, it was a terrific way to meet the neighbors.

The term “block” party has two meanings. On the one hand, we involved people up and down the street for just about a city block. On the other hand, we got permission to “block” traffic at each end for a couple of hours, so people could sit or walk back and forth. This gave us the leisure and freedom to mingle.

Obviously, if you were going to plan a block party, it would be wise to get permission from everyone on the block. Even better, find a way to involve them – maybe preparing food or setting up tables or hosting games for little children in your yard. (For personal reasons, I advise against loud music.)

A friend from down the road once commented on the tendency of some households to live (in her words) like mole people. You rarely see them pop their heads out the door, unless they are heading for the car. Maybe we can learn something from Dixie, where it is far more common to spend time outside on your front porch, waving to those who pass.

Getting to know your neighbors can yield several benefits, such as increased safety and the possibility of developing friendships or finding convenient baby-sitters nearby. Now, I say that, but those who know me know that I tend to be socially withdrawn, almost a loner. For that reason, it probably would have been healthy for me to have done more of these.

Not only would it be good for you to get to know your neighbors, it would also strengthen the community generally. Part of what people buy when they move to a small town is friendliness and a sense of community. So, let’s give it to them!

Any city is made up of neighborhoods and apartment complexes and historical districts. These are sometimes the most vital building blocks for a sense of community. I know that my own family was enriched by some of the people on our block. (Thank you, folks! You know who you are.)  

Neighborhoods are the intermediate layer between families and city. Why not strengthen all the layers? They each contribute to the overall resilience of a place. How do I mean that?

If disaster strikes, these neighborhoods become critical as resources, when we rely on each other to make it through and restore any feeling of equanimity. Neighbors jump up and move the downed tree branches and phone 9-1-1 and push your car out of the snow.

You know, just as it makes sense to fix the roof before it starts raining, maybe you can organize a block party where you live this spring. You won’t regret it. The city will also be stronger if you do.