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Publish Date: 8/28/2005

Roger Bruce, left, grills hamburgers as Scott Crossen watches during the neighborhood block party on Hartwick Circle last weekend. Times-Call/Lewis Geyer

Live and Learn
Block parties a good way to unite, or divide, neighbors

LONGMONT — No one on Hartwick Circle can remember exactly when the annual block party began, but neighbors on the festive street do know what makes it work.

Bratwursts and peppers supervised by grill master Roger Bruce.

Acoustic jam sessions performed by the teenagers after dark in the cul de sac. Tubfuls of homemade ice cream, from peanut butter chocolate to Colorado peach to strawberry cheesecake, churned by the Shryacks.

And it doesn’t matter if you’ve moved.

“Hartwick alumni are always invited. That’s fun, too,” said resident Jan Hartlove. “If you ever lived on Hartwick and you defected and moved across town, you can still come.”

The Hartwick Circle block party has remained unchanged, save for a few snags, during its estimated two decades in existence, she said.

For example, most of the kids left for college this year, leaving the cul de sac a little quieter.

Steve Shryack bought premium ice cream one year and “caught hell for it,” he said.

And last year — blame it on busyness or forgetfulness — but Hartwick Circle residents just didn’t party.

“Oh my gosh,” Hartlove said. “In late August, early September, everybody kept asking ‘Are we going to have a block party? Why didn’t we have a block party?’ It was obviously missed.”

Block parties, those street celebrations where neighbors venture out of their back yards and living rooms to converse with each other and, most likely, grill food, are a way to instill a sense of community within a neighborhood, said Jon Clarke, the city of Longmont’s neighborhood resources supervisor.

But only if they’re done respectfully.

Discover Neighbors, Discover Home is a year-old city program through the Neighbors Resources Program aimed at promoting neighborhood ties through mini-grants and projects, such as neighborhood garage sales, tree-planting parties — and block parties.

Clarke said the $50 and $100 mini-grants and $40 gift certificates are available for any project, as long as it involves bringing neighbors together.

“It’s helping neighbors organize on a larger scale,” Clarke said.

Grants are earned when residents map their street, getting the names of family members, pets and perhaps any children with mowing or babysitting skills.

“If something comes up like a family emergency, it’s typically your neighbors whom you rely on to provide some support,” like yard work, baby-sitting or caring for a pet, Clarke said.

The city’s block party street closure petition needs signatures of all homeowners on the street that will be closed for the party. Block party organizers also must get street barriers from the city for a refundable $25 fee.

Other than that, the application does not specify any limit to the number of party guests or hours of a block party.

Shryack said Hartwick residents grew close because he was one of four families on the street when his family moved there in 1983. Now, the street is home to more than 30 houses.

He said the block party “lets you meet all the neighbors — at least the ones who come.”

Clarke said the Discover Neighbors, Discover Home program encourages neighborly relationships that get a little lost in the age of booming housing developments with catchy names, cul de sacs and kids in constant extracurricular activities.

“The ways our neighborhoods develop and the way our lives are today, we have more competing with those old-fashion values,” he said. “Sports and activities are good, but it’s weighing those kinds of things with neighborhood values and looking at the benefits they can provide.”

Clarke said he attended the block party sponsored in his St. Petersburg, Fla., neighborhood, where street bowling was the trademark event.

“Block parties are all different and reflect the character of the neighborhood,” he said. “The important thing is to get together and have fun.”

The congenial atmosphere of block parties can even be a tool to mend fences between antagonistic neighbors, according to Clarke.

“The whole concept of a block party is talking to your neighbors and building relationships through that,” he said, although that may not be the case, especially if a party gets out of hand.

One Longmont resident, who asked not to be identified for this story, said while the intention of neighborhood events might be good, some block parties go bad when revelers break city ordinances on noise and alcohol.

“I’m neither for (block parties) or against them,” said the Longmont resident. “Most are well-conducted with respect for all. But there is a downside. Some neighbors use it as an excuse to drink and make a lot of noise.”

When that happens, Clarke said, offended residents do have recourse.

Dates and locations of a block party can be changed. Another option, he said, is using a city volunteer mediator — there are 20 — to help further a dialogue among neighbors about hot-button issues, such as traffic, noise, trash and alcohol.

Clarke said block parties are “a tool neighbors can use to help bridge those gaps,” but if problems arise or continue, he said residents contact him.

“We encourage and recommend that approach rather than calling police, but that is always an option, too, if laws are being broken,” Clarke said.

He added that party organizers must be respectful of neighbors who don’t attend the party and must follow city ordinances. Block parties are for a street’s residents; they’re not a free-for-all kegger, Clarke said.

“If the reality is that people are inviting others from ... other cities and neighborhoods, it’s really no longer a block party. It’s a public event,” he said, which means organizers need a use-of-public-places permit instead.

For more information about block parties, call Clarke at 303-651-8721.

Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at msidwell@times-call.com.

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