Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=220065
Story Retrieval Date: 4/18/2014 5:46:18 AM CST

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Jayna Omaye/MEDILL

The 47th Ward hosts nearly 200 block club parties annually. Ald. Ameya Pawar and his staff have prioritized the formation and maintenance of block clubs by creating and distributing a club manual to residents just a few months after the alderman was elected in 2011, according to the 47th Ward office.


Neighbors build connections through block clubs

by Jayna Omaye
Apr 11, 2013


While walking her dog Wednesday morning, Marissa Baker saw a group of school children from her block. One of the children walked up to her and hugged her. Baker attributes this connection with her neighbors through her block club. Just four years after moving to Garfield Park with her husband, Baker has already participated in and organized numerous activities through her block club.

“Walking down the street and greeting people by name – it makes you feel connected to the place you live in,” Baker said. “One person doing something alone is not as powerful as when people are working together.”

Block clubs have existed as neighborhood institutions in Chicago since at least the 1950s, according to the Chicago Police Department. Neighbors meet about issues concerning the community and organize both social- and project-based events. These meetings can also help to build friendships among neighbors, Baker said.

Residents from the 47th Ward of Lincoln Square and North Center share this idea of valuing the connection among neighbors. A woman from the ward who was recently hospitalized is visited by her neighbors, who have developed a meal plan for when she returns home, according to the ward’s newsletter, which attributes this closeness to the annual block club party.

“These social bonds are what build communities,” said Ald. Ameya Pawar of the 47th Ward, whose staff helps residents form and maintain block clubs that foster community involvement. “If you know your neighbor, you have a resilient community.”

Although Baker said forming and maintaining an involved block club is difficult because there are sometimes too many strong personalities and opinions, she said the positive aspects of feeling safe, secure and connected outweigh the small internal conflicts.

Policy analyst John Marron said internal conflicts among neighborhood block clubs usually do not result in huge calamities, but instead, the sense of security created among neighbors is the foundation to a better quality of life.

“If you look out and see everyone as friends or acquaintances, you’re going to have more of a positive outlook and feel more secure,” said Marron, who specializes in community and neighborhood development at the Indiana University Public Policy Institute.

Dara Salk, constituent services liaison for Ald. Pawar, said when neighbors are connected, they are able to help and care for one another in times of need.

“It makes people stay in the neighborhood,” said Salk, who manages community outreach and block club support. “Why would you want to leave?”

The Police Department helps residents organize their neighborhoods by deploying community organizers to work with neighbors and to support traditional law enforcement strategies, said Beth Ford, deputy director of the Police Department. Resources such as the Police Department’s CAPS website, which recommends starting a block club from the ground up by recruiting volunteers, organizing a meeting and listening carefully to the issues neighbors share, provide information for residents interested in forming their own clubs.

Depending on the needs and desires of a neighborhood, block clubs work as both formal and informal institutions, Marron said. To be successful, block clubs need to be formed by the right personalities and for the right reasons, he said.

“It’s not always been a big group hug,” Baker said. “Anytime you work with people, you have to deal with people.” However, she said her neighbors treat one another with mutual respect, regardless of conflicting views. “You can’t do it alone, and you can’t keep up the energy alone.”