Block Parties Bring Neighbors Together


Want to make your neighborhood a little nicer and safer? Do like the neighbors on Cottonwood Drive in Cupertino do, and break out the hot dogs and Samosas.

Every summer the residents along the street gather together for an annual block party, a day of food, games, and friendly chatting. More than just a fun festivity, the popular event serves as a way to knit the neighbors together just a little tighter, and make the neighborhood just a little nicer all year long.

“It’s a good community project. The more you know your neighbors, the better for your street,” said Nanette Domitrowich, as she put the final touches on preparations for Cottonwood’s 2012 block party last month.

The yearly party started several years ago, helping to lift morale; since they began Domitrowich said neighbors say “hi” to one another a little more.

Her co-block leader, Sujit Roy, called the tradition a nice way for neighbors to catch up with one another, since normally, “We drive in our cars and we don’t get to see anybody.”

This year Domitrowich and her neighbor a few doors down, Lianne Hatcher, planned a 50s theme for the event; they played pop tunes from the era, added a few decorations, and Hatcher even donned 50s garb.

Like most Silicon Valley neighborhoods, Cottonwood is a mixture of long-time residents—some homeowners have lived there more than 50 years—and newer transplants from around the world.

That diversity was well represented on the block party’s string of folding tables full of potluck dishes from a wide variety of world cuisines. Hatcher’s fiancé, Tony Barney, was grilling the hot dogs, while neighbors were piling the tables with the Samosas, dumplings, and potato salad, with a dividing line between vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare.

It was an influx of new residents from mostly Asia more than a decade ago that spurred the City of Cupertino to encourage block parties as a way of introducing new neighbors to one another.

Previously residents had to get permissions from three different agencies, and pay fees, according to Laura Domondon Lee, the city’s community relations coordinator. The city “completely streamlined” the process, and created a “one-stop shop” for residents registering their parties.

In addition to waiving the fees, the city assumes liability insurance, as long as certain rules are adhered to and parties are registered more than 30 days in advance. To close a street, two thirds of the residents living there must sign a petition agreeing to the closure.

The city will even provide recreation leaders for free to lead games for both kids and adults, and well as help arrange visits by emergency vehicles, fire fighters and sheriff’s deputies.

She said there are between 15 and 20 block parties the city knows of each year, with probably more informal parties going on in people’s homes and yards. Some are elaborate with organized meals, games and activities, like the Cottonwood parties, while others are as simple as gatherings around potluck appetizers.

Cupertino is unique in Santa Clara County in how far it goes to encourage the parties. A survey of other cities found that while some may offer procedures for block parties, none offer the amount of services, and some charge fees.

For example, San Jose offers a path to closing streets for block parties, but it will cost residents almost $200 for a first-time permit, with subsequent permits costing nothing if renewed within one year.

Mountain View and Palo Alto do not charge for block party permits, but require residents to provide their own traffic cones and barricades to close down streets.

Cupertino’s Lee said that although the block parties cost the city money, they are in an investment.

“For a nominal cost we’re getting a bigger bang for our buck in having people work with each other, and happy to be living with each other,” she said.

In a community with such wide cultural differences, that also includes two-career households, and children and teens with busy schedules, block parties offer a way for neighborhoods to come together at least once in awhile.

“The real star of the program is that everyone who attends feels good about being there,” Lee said. “This is just a great way where everybody is welcome.”

Tomorrow: How to Organize a Great Block Party


  1. […] a Great Block Party August 16, 2012 By Pam Marino Leave a Comment Yesterday I posted about how neighbors in Cupertino are strengthening their neighborhoods through throwing annual block parti…. Today I’ve got a list of ideas on how to organize a great block party in your own […]