NORMAN — Volunteers will be closing a busy neighborhood street on Saturday in an effort to open new roads within the community.
More than 2,000 people are expected to attend the I Love My Neighborhood block party from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday. The event is coordinated by the Center for Children and Families, Wilson Elementary School and Trinity Baptist Church. Most activities will be in the church parking lot, 801 N Peters Ave. Peters will be closed between Rich and Frank streets.
Jessica Hutchinson, senior program specialist for the Center for Children and Families, said one of the goals is to reduce community isolation.
“As our culture grows, we tend to become more independent. Our families function behind closed doors. Our goal is to get people out, to get people connected, to get events within the neighborhood and bring resources in.”
Bridging a gap
This marks the 12th year for the block party, which serves one of Norman's earliest neighborhoods, the Old Silk Stocking district. Cherrie Birden, principal of Wilson Elementary, said it was originally conceived to bridge the generation gap in the neighborhood.
“We wanted to develop our sense of community since young families were moving into a neighborhood with a lot of senior citizens,” she said. “After we started, we stopped getting calls about kids picking flowers and other complaints, and started receiving calls about kids riding their bikes in the streets. People were more concerned about their safety.”
Hutchinson said the party has changed.
“It used to be on a weekday evening, and it grew to the point it was so large and we wanted to draw in as many people as possible. Saturday afternoon provided that family-fun carnival opportunity,” Hutchinson said.
Ashley Dickson of the Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma said social neighbors create a sense of community and can help make their neighborhoods safer.
“The number one defense you have against crime in your area is your neighbor,” Dickson said. “It's been proven that neighborhoods where neighbors are out in the yard working or just out talking to each other, their crime seems to decrease because criminals choose a neighborhood to break into long before they choose an individual house.”
Last year, the Putnam Heights neighborhood in Oklahoma City fell victim to a string of break-ins.
Amanda Olszewski, neighborhood association president at the time, said because the residents were already organized, they quickly rallied, and with the help of police stopped the burglaries.
“The first break-in was in May. We had the watch program up and running by June, and we've not had a break-in since then,” Olszewski said. “I absolutely think that the fact that our neighborhood, or at least our street, was so close — we do things socially together and just spend a lot of time on our sidewalks playing and getting to know each other — had a huge impact in our ability to motivate when we needed to.”
The Neighborhood Alliance promotes an annual Neighbors Night Out, in which areas are encouraged to hold parties to celebrate safe and united neighborhoods. Neighborhoods can register for this year's event, to be held Sept. 11, starting in April at www.
About 100 volunteers are expected to help with the Norman block party, which will include inflatables and face painting for children, live music and free food donated by nearby Norman Regional Hospital and Hiland Dairy.
People can visit 30 booths, sponsored by community organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters.