Stage a Shindig in the Street

the City of Eau Claire is making it easier to block off your block and throw a party

Tom Giffey, photos by Dan Zerr

Have a hankering to throw a backyard barbecue this summer? Maybe a few burgers and a couple of lawn chairs?

Think bigger, people. Instead of firing up the grill for just the family or a handful of friends, why not invite the whole neighborhood – or at least the whole block?

The City of Eau Claire has taken steps to encourage more residents to throw block parties, streamlining the process of asking the police to close your block to traffic for the day and even tossing – literally tossing – in some extra fun. (More on that later.)

City Manager Dale Peters says he’s eager to increase the number of block parties that Eau Claire residents throw. “Our block has had a Fourth of July block party for almost 32 years,” he explains. “I’ve just experienced it as a wonderful opportunity to get to know your neighbors. It’s a really great opportunity for children to get to know each other.”

The annual block party on Rust Street in Eau Claire’s Third Ward features a kiddie parade – complete with decorated bikes, patriotic music via boombox, and ice cream – as well as lots of food, fun, and get-to-know-your-neighbors-style fellowship. In fact, they’re so eager to have fun with the neighbors that they invite people who live in the adjacent block, too (including Peters and his family).

The key ingredient – other than the willingness of a few neighbors to get the ball rolling – is getting approval from the city to close the street. In the past, doing so required filling out a paper form – which had to be brought in to the police department – as well as collecting signatures from neighbors. But last summer, the city launched a website that includes an easy-to-use online application for a block party: www.ci.eau-claire.wi.us/about-us/block-party. The site also includes a party checklist as well as invitation templates for your neighbors. (You’re still asked to notify your neighbors and get their approval for the shindig.) Applications must be received at least 14 days before the date of the party, so you’ll have to plan ahead at least a bit.

If the police OK the application, they’ll drop off street barricades on the appropriate day. (Previously, prospective block partiers had to pick up the barricades themselves.) And, if you request it, they’ll also drop off something else: a “game bag” full of hula hoops, parachutes, whiffle balls, bats and bases, and a kubb set. What’s more, if you don’t know how to play kubb, the city will arrange for a local volunteer kubb player to come to the party to offer instruction in Eau Claire’s beloved Nordic lawn game. We challenge you to find another city in the United States that offers such a service! (When the fun is done, it will be your responsibility to return the game bag to the Parks and Recreation Office.)

And if kubb isn’t your block’s thing – or if you’re simply trying to set your party on fire (figuratively, at least) – you can also request that the Eau Claire Fire Department makes an appearance. Hopefully, they’ll be there just to show off one of their shiny trucks to the kids and not to hose down your blazing briquettes.

What else makes for a good block party? Just use your imagination. Throw a potluck, with people on one side of the street bringing salads and those on the other providing desserts. Turn the blacktop into a massive canvas for chalk art. Stage a street dance, or – like the people on Rust Street – throw a mini-parade. Whatever you do, remember that something as simple as a block party can help turn people who just happen to live near each other into real, honest-to-goodness neighbors. As the city ordinance outlining the rules for block parties puts it, “The purpose of a block party is to bring neighbors together to get to know each other, provide a forum for solving neighborhood problems, provide a sense of safety, assist in crime prevention, and build a sense of community.”

WANT TO THROW A BLOCK PARTY?
HERE’S A CHECKLIST!

• Pick a date (you must submit your application at least 14 days in advance).

• Determine your area (i.e., which block you’re going to party on).

• Check with the neighbors to make sure they’re on board.

• Apply for a permit online at www.ci.eau-claire.wi.us/about-us/block-party

• Make sure your permit has been granted.

• Invite your neighbors (the city has invitation templates you can use).

• Decide who will set up and clean up.

• Decide who will supply the grills, tables, chairs, etc.

• Do you wish to assign food, or have everyone bring a dish to pass?

• Will everyone bring their own plates, napkins, utensils?

• Will everyone bring their own beverages? (Remember state law prohibits drinking alcohol on the sidewalk or street.)

• Are you going to have music?

• What types of games/activities do you want? (You can request a game bag from the city containing balls, hula hoops, parachutes, whiffle balls, bats and bases, and more. This will be dropped off with the street barricades.)

• A Fire Department visit for kids can be requested on the online application (if resources are available).

• Where will you dispose of garbage?

• Make a plan in case of inclement weather

Source: City of Eau Claire website

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