Thursday, September 4, 2008

The value of community events

Exercise time at En Movimiento in Humboldt Park.
Photos by Eric Young Smith.

As summer fades, a brief reflection what value comes from all the summer festivals, b-ball tournaments and events like En Movimiento, the fitness-fests put on by the Greater Humboldt Park Community of Wellness.

What value? First, the street time allows people to run into people they know, touch base, catch up on news and information that must pump like blood through a community to maintain its health. Second, the crowds create, in most cases, a safe and invigorating environment where many types of people can mix and maybe get to know each other a bit, even if only from a distance. At the Glenwood Arts Festival the other weekend in Rogers Park, the crowd was remarkably diverse and more than a bit rough around the edges. It was a pleasure to be part of that scene.

And that's number three: Public events provide a bridge from one month or year to the next, offering opportunities for members of a community to come together over time. At that arts fest my wife and I spoke to a couple we've known for 25 years – not friends, really, but committed neighbors – and our occasional chats at block parties or street events provide a continuity that is important and affirming. We are long-term partners, after all, in the health of our neighborhood.

Finally, when I watched the teenage boys and girls sauntering off the school buses at the Hoops in the Hood Cross-City Finals on August 23, I couldn't help but think about what it meant to them to be traveling across the city to an unknown park to represent their neighborhood in a sporting event. The younger kids were clearly pumped up, excited and laughing; the older teens showed their intensity with tough "game faces" that only slowly broke open to smiles later, out on the court and after the games. Those young people will remember that event for a long time to come.

On that note, there are a few more opportunities to catch some of this action. This weekend, on 79th Street at Racine, check out the Third Annual 79th Street Renaissance Festival sponsored by the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp. It will be their biggest and best to date. And on October 5 and 26, the Sunday Parkways program will debut with boulevards closed to traffic so that neighbors can bike, walk or just hang out, being together. My wife and I will be there on our tandem.

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