National Night Out resources and ideas

in About Our Blocks, Resources

These are some resources you can use to plan community-building activities in your neighborhood around National Night Out.

The National Night Out website. From the About page: NNO is designed to Heighten crime and drug prevention awareness; Generate support for, and participation in, local anticrime programs; Strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and Send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back. “Last year’s National Night Out campaign involved citizens, law enforcement agencies, civic groups, businesses, neighborhood organizations and local officials from over 15,000 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and military bases worldwide. In all, over 36 million people participated.”

Click here for National Night Out Party Ideas. Excerpts:

  • Serve food, but keep it simple: Watermelon, Lemonade, Coffee, tea and dessert, Ice cream cones, Pretzels and chips, Fruit and cheese plates, Pizza, Cookies, Hamburgers, Hot dogs, Corn on the cob, Salads.
  • Facilitate conversations: Design a mixer: “Find a person who…” – with prizes, Block history stories, National Night Out stories, Photos from past block parties and NNO events, Oldest resident award, Longest resident award, Newest resident award.
  • Do something for the community: Collect for a food bank, Beautify a common area, Plan a fall clean-up or bulb planting, Recruit additional Neighborhood Watch leaders and block captains, Discuss neighborhood problems & opportunities, Distribute neighborhood block list.
  • Have fun: Bike parade, Board games, Skits, Make a mural or banner, Coloring Contest, Pony rides, 3-legged race, Football, baseball, basketball, street hockey, Roller blade, Youth parade with a theme, Jump rope, Chalk art, Face painting, Bubbles, Sack races, Magic show, Sing-alongs, Water balloons, Frisbee competition, Piñata, Clowns, Bike Safety, Child ID Kits, Block party, Cookout, Parade, Jump rope contest, Hula hoop contest, Barbecue, Street dance, Volleyball, Storytelling (truth or fiction), Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, Scavenger hunt, Take lots of pictures, Karaoke, Rummage sale, Music and DJ, Dunk tank, Movies, Sandy beach party, Street carnival, Disposable camera distribution/photo contest, Self-defense demonstration, Jail & Bail, K-9 demonstration, Funniest hat contest, Welcome new neighbors, Live music, Horseshoes

There’s always something: Read the Trademark Fact Sheet (“Violators will be subject to legal action”). For instance, if your group needs to raise funds for your NNO, and you want to hit up a local business, you need to let it know that it “may not have its participation/association with NNO publicly advertised, displayed or promoted, unless it is registered as an official NNO sponsor with NATW’s national office, or unless NATW extends advance written approval.”

Other resources:

Have you organized NNO activities in the past? We’re helping organize some communities around NNO this year, and hope you can help by sharing stories, tips, do’s and don’ts. Particularly interested in how you kept the community going after NNO. – Thanks

Recommended resources, 2010-0829

in About Our Blocks, Resources

Recently added to our list of Resources for neighborhood-based community building:

  • Coalition for Community Schools – Resources Housed at the Institute for Educational Leadership, CCS is an alliance of national, state and local organizations in education K-16, youth development, community development, and family support.
  • Printable Outreach Resources for Inclusion Online Links to all of the print materials we are generating in our Inclusive Social Media effort promoting neighbor Issues Forum for all.
  • Harlem Children’s Zone – Publications Newsletters, white papers & poems from Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone Project – a unique, holistic approach to rebuilding a community so that its children can stay on track through college and go on to the job market.
  • National Gang Center The latest research about gangs; descriptions of evidence-based, anti-gang programs; links to tools, databases & other resources for developing & implementing effective community-based gang prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies.
  • Promise Neighborhood Institutes Blog An independent, foundation-supported nonprofit resource, offers tools, information, and strategies to assist any community interested in participating in the DOE Promise Neighborhoods program.
  • The Sharehood – Resources You don’t need to start a community garden or use our local currency or get an article in your local media to be part of a Sharehood community. We’re just giving you some information on how to do these things in case you want to.

Block parties

in About Our Blocks, Resources

Sources: Block Party Guide, Oakland CA and Block Party Planning Tips from Block Party NYC. These resources include forms and other tools. For local restrictions and guides, try searching the term “block party permit” and the name of your city/town. Click on this, for example.

10 Reasons To Have a Block Party

  1. To have fun – no excuse or reason to celebrate!
  2. To meet your neighbors.
  3. To increase the sense of belonging in your neighborhood.
  4. To organize a city-sponsored group such as Neighborhood Watch.
  5. To make connections within the community. When you know people, you can exchange skills or resources and perhaps organize a book club, baby-sitting co-op, share walking to school duties, or find new friends for your children.
  6. To plan a campaign for traffic slowdown, get better lighting, or address other interests.
  7. To “use” the street for one day, for example to roller blade, set up a kids jump house or to practice bike safety skills.
  8. To meet some of the old-time residents in the neighborhood and learn about its history.
  9. To have a neighborhood clean-up day, play some good music and barbecue once all the work is done.
  10. To start a tradition of getting together at least once a year.


How to start organizing

  • Gather a few neighbors and divide up the tasks. A block party is too big a production for even the most highly-skilled organizer to accomplish alone. If you don’t already know you neighbors, reach out to them by organizing an introductory meeting and planning session.
  • Decide on a possible theme, activities, etc. Decide what to do about food.
  • Start knocking on doors to find out if there is enough interest and, if so, which day would be the best for the most people
  • Pick a date and time (mid-afternoon to evening works best). Respect neighborhood quietness after 9:00pm. Think of an alternate plan in case of poor weather.
  • Go door to door. Hand out invitations. If you plan to close off the street, you’ll probably need to complete Block Party application form.
  • Recruit volunteers to help with the planning.
  • Decide if this will be a block party restricted to those on the street/block or will people be able to invite friends/relatives
  • Post signs the day before reminding everyone to remove cars and that the street will be closed.


  • Invite a city council member, school principal, or city staff member.
  • Call the Police Department, Fire Department, Environmental Services or other city departments to obtain literature, give-aways, or to request a presentation.
  • Make a record of everyone who attends and everyone you contacted; after all, the idea of a block party is to connect neighbors.
  • Identify special talents your neighbors might have – you may be living next to a magician, singer, dancer, artist, radio host or prize winning cook.
  • Plan lots of activities for children.
  • Food: if you’re looking for the least fuss, work, and cleanup, the hot dog is for you. The standard charcoal grill is a cheap, easy, portable way to go. Someone on your block probably owns one if you don’t.
  • Lots of block parties have great luck getting food donated from local grocery stores or supermarkets.
  • Have an environmentally friendly party. Ask everyone to bring their own reusable plates, cups and cutlery to limit paper garbage and litter.
  • Include activities that encourage people to meet each other. Use nametags and include children by asking them to create the tags.
  • Make sure that people with disabilities can participate in the activities and include their attendants (those with seeing eye dogs or in wheelchairs).
  • Institute a bathroom policy “Everyone to use their own” so that home security is maintained.
  • Trash: have at least one trash can at every table/location where food is being served. It’s also a good idea to have several elsewhere on the block.
  • Inspire clean up after every party by rewarding children with a prize for packing up garbage.
  • Have a block/street clean up as part of the party. Also, neighbors may want to contribute towards the cost of a truckload to the dump and use this to clean out gardens, garbage or alleys.
  • Distribute an evaluation form to participants (to get a good response, number the forms and have door prizes for returned entries).

Getting to know your neighbors

  • Identify any special people that lived in your area such as the longest resident, politician, artist, eccentric, hero, etc. Have partygoers guess who, what, where through charades and other games.
  • Have everyone bring his or her favorite family dish.
  • Use a map to indicate where everyone originally came from.

Family-friendly activities

  • Water balloon or egg toss
  • Hide and seek
  • Face painting
  • Organize a kids talent show or parade
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Pictionary or charades
  • Musical chairs
  • Invite a clown, balloon artist or magician
  • Rent a popcorn or snow cone machine

Neighborhood action

  • Discuss what issues/concerns people may have (keep this to a predetermined time: remember, a block party should be fun).
  • Establish teams to explore how to resolve the concerns.
  • Have a clean-up time.
  • Build a bench, plant a garden, and paint street numbers, etc. as part of the block party activities.

Typical restrictions

  • Alcohol is only permitted on private property, not on city streets or in parks.
  • Residents should observe security precautions, for example lock back doors to houses and keep equipment in sight.
  • Food cannot be sold on city streets unless the proper permits have been obtained. Give the food away (and there’s nothing to stop you from putting a “suggested donation” sign on the table).
  • Loud amplification of music is prohibited.
  • If you set up tables and chairs on the street, leave room for emergency vehicles.

Other resources:

Community Policing – Theory & Practice

in About Our Blocks, Resources

from Community Change: Theories, Practice, and Evidence (pdf). Amie M. Schuck and Dennis P. Rosenbaum. Edited by Karen Fulbright-Anderson and Patricia Auspos. The Aspen Institute.

The community policing era, roughly 1970 to the present, is arguably only the third period in the history of American police reform, following the political era, 1840s–1920s, and the reform era, 1920s–1960s. Emerging from the ashes of the urban riots of the 1960s and from the failure of urban police to develop meaningful and respectful relationships with African-American neighborhoods, community policing was an attempt to recognize and respond to the needs of the community. The debate over the definition of community policing has been contentious at times, and police departments have implemented hundreds of diverse programs under this one label. Nevertheless, there is some agreement in the literature about common elements.

Community policing can be distinguished along four basic dimensions: philosophical, strategic, tactical, and organizational. At the philosophical level, community policing encourages strong citizen input into police decision making, and offers a broader view of the police function that extends beyond crime fighting to solving problems, preventing crime, and generally improving the quality of neighborhood life. Citizen input in the form of advisory boards, community meetings, and surveys is encouraged. Citizens are expected to have some say in the prioritization of neighborhood problems, the deployment of police resources, and the type of policing they will receive.

At the strategic level, community policing often results in a reorientation of street-level operations to increase face-to-face contact between police and citizens, such as more foot patrol, door-to-door contacts, and community meetings. Other operational changes include geographic-based deployment of personnel, which requires individual and group responsibility for smaller geographic areas on a 24-hour basis rather than larger areas for an eight- to ten-hour shift.

One component of this new emphasis on place rather than time is the use of permanent assignments. The potential benefits of this approach are many: Officers and citizens become familiar with one another, begin to develop trust, and establish the basis for a mutually respectful working relationship. Other benefits include officers’ increased knowledge of local problems, troublemakers, and resources. While permanent beat assignments are very popular among citizens, they are problematic for the police. Officers are promoted to new assignments or elect to move elsewhere. As officers become more familiar with the neighborhood, the risk of police corruption increases, although good supervision can be preventative. As a result of these and other problems, permanent assignments are difficult to implement. Ultimately, responsibility for neighborhoods occurs at the command level. At a minimum, to address the problem of officers being unfamiliar with the neighborhoods and the residents they police, many cities are establishing residency requirements. Requiring that officers live within the city boundaries will help, but in larger cities, this will not solve the problem at the level of beat assignment. Officers are likely to live and work in different places.

Community policing at the strategic level also includes an emphasis on preventing crime and solving neighborhood problems. This model encourages police officers to go beyond responding to individual incidents and taking reports to address underlying problems and conditions in the neighborhood. This requires careful problem analysis, good data, and community involvement. Community policing could involve a new relationship between police and youth—one not based on conflict and hostility. For younger children, police can serve as mentors and role models. For adolescents, police can begin to bridge the gap by facilitating an open dialogue about concerns and prejudices.

At the tactical level, where philosophies and strategies are translated into real action, community policing can take on many faces. In addition to creating more opportunities for positive interaction with citizens (which requires the police to get out of their cars), community policing calls for mobilizing citizens, building partnerships with other organizations, and engaging in systematic problem solving. In the more progressive police departments, mobilization and problem solving are intimately linked, and the long-term goal is to establish self-regulating neighborhoods.

Smart community-oriented police organizations do not define their range of partnerships exclusively in terms of total community membership (e.g., Neighborhood Watch) or total law enforcement membership (e.g., FBI-DEA­local police task force). They recognize that linkages must be created with other institutions and agencies (ranging from local churches to other city departments) to leverage resources for local problems. These smart police organizations recognize something that traditional police agencies do not, namely, that the police alone cannot achieve public safety.

Finally, community policing can be conceptualized as a series of potential changes at the organizational level. Various changes within the police organization are considered necessary to achieve a new style of policing at the neighborhood level. Among these are: (1) changes in organizational structure, decentralizing, flattening, creating teams, and civilianizing, (2) changes in management, a mission statement that reflects new policing values, strategic planning, supervisory coaching and mentoring, and empowering of officers, (3) changes in information management to establish new systems for evaluating personnel, units, and programs, and new systems for crime analysis, mapping, and resource deployment. Whether new information technology will be used to further the goals of community policing or to move policing in another direction remains to be seen.

How effective?

Is community policing effective and beneficial for neighborhoods? The jury is still out, and the evaluation findings to date have been mixed. Some reasonably good evidence suggests that community-policing tactics can reduce fear of crime, improve police-community relations, and stimulate more positive attitudes among police personnel. We have less evidence that community policing can reduce levels of crime and disorder or change the actual behavior of citizens or police. As an exception, one of the more rigorous evaluations has shown positive results in Chicago neighborhoods on many of these outcomes. [ed: for a more recent evaluation, see  Community Policing in Chicago - An Evaluation of Chicago's Alternative Policing Strategy]

Community policing is attractive in theory, but has faced an uphill battle to convince police officers and citizens to accept new roles and responsibilities. Despite these constraints, many determined police executives and community leaders have persisted in their reform efforts and, consequently, have recorded some notable successes. The larger problem lies in the changing landscape of policing and the challenge posed by competing paradigms.

Community policing offers a real solution to this growing problem. Joint police-community problem-solving initiatives—with open, two-way communication and a focus on building comprehensive partnerships that attack the problem from all sides—hold considerable promise. This approach has been effective in addressing other social problems, and there is no compelling reason to believe that it cannot be applied to the problem of public safety.

Related resources:
DOJ Office of Community Oriented Policing
Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

An open letter from Bill Berkowitz of Community Tool Box Re: “Taking Action in Your Neighborhood”

in About Our Blocks, Resources

I got this note from UMass Professor Emeritus Bill Berkowitz earlier this week, and with his permission have posted it here so you can share your own thoughts and suggestions. Dr. Berkowitz is a writer, editor, and core team member of the Community Tool Box, the most extensive web site on community health and development on the planet (which we featured here). His books deal with skills, ideas, personal qualities, and stories relating to community organization and improvement. Bill is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and a recipient of its award for Distinguished Contributions to Practice in Community Psychology.

I’d forwarded this email to some of my contacts in the neighborhoods movement, and with their permission will be posting excerpts from their responses here as well.

Hi, Leo – Thanks very much for your April 12 note. It’s so easy to be impressed by it – both by your statement of purpose and by the people you’ve been gathering around your ideas. I surely hope your work gains momentum, takes off, and soars.

In this note, I’m sending along a concept of our own, titled “Taking Action in Your Neighborhood,” which perhaps you might reflect and comment upon.

In some ways, it’s a variation and extension of Our Blocks. Some differences are that it’s more explicitly action-oriented, and more explicitly participatory. It also structures the content by topic, rather than have the user do it via tagging. And it centralizes and gives a specific focus for much of the needed neighborhood work.

What’s here could be a rather big idea, probably calling for both synthesis of existing content and creation of some new content as well. The potential payoff, though, could be very large.

So take a look if you can, and see what you think; we’ll be very grateful to learn of your own reactions, others’ as well, whatever they may be.

We’re also very comfortable with your sharing any or all of this with your other neighborhood contacts – actually we’d encourage this, since more feedback may both help strengthen this concept, as well as Our Blocks itself, and potentially lead to mutually-beneficial collaborations.

Thanks very much again, Leo, and be talking to you.

~~ Bill

* * * * *

In response to your note and request for feedback, I’m writing to sketch out some neighborhood thoughts, and more specifically around developing a centralized “Taking Action in Your Neighborhood” resource that I’d mentioned before.

We’d certainly be interested in any of your own thoughts you might have on this, especially (if the idea has merit) for moving this idea forward. I’m also copying Jay here, since this relates pretty closely to some work he has done.

Here’s the rationale: There’s a lot of neighborhood-related stuff in print and in cyberspace, which may not be very surprising. Much of what exists is both good and useful. A lot of it can be found on Our Blocks. Some of it is on the Community Tool Box, and I’m sure also on many other sites as well.

But a real downside is that it’s scattered all over the map – so if someone is interested in a particular neighborhood topic or issue, they might find themselves looking in a lot of places, and having to patch together what they need from a bunch of different sources. This is both time-consuming and often not all that effective.