Houston (Bellaire) has block parties!

When did you last do an egg toss? Play tug of war with a huge rope? Have a real fire engine squirt you with its massive hose? Eat far too much? Talk to ALL your neighbors? Watch the kids bike freely down the center of the street? Well, if you say more than a year, you don’t live on my block of Birch Street! We have a block party every May, before it gets too hot. It requires a signature permission from every single household on the block. Even one holdout can stop it. We’ve had one every year since a few years after we moved here.

There always seems to be a good crop of children, from the sulky teenagers overdoing it with the water cannons to the excited youngsters happy to play all up and down the street, to the tiny tots enjoying the food bonanza. We catch up on who is doing what, who moved, who cooked what, which schools people are choosing.

There was only one year we nearly didn’t have the party. We had all the signatures. We had the barricades. But we had a builder right next door to me that threatened to end the party. He went to Bellaire City Hall and said he wanted to have an open house that very Sunday, and so we couldn’t close the street. It was some sort of home show. We pointed out that we could close the street 4 houses in, and that would be sufficient for both activities, but he wouldn’t hear of it. No block party, and the city caved to him. This was even though we had all the permissions, and builders do not get a say on empty houses. So we said fine, but he could count on us moms picketing the house. The signs would say something like “No fair, this open house shut down our block party.” I told him that we would do this, and that I had 4 moms all lined up to help picket.

I imagined this powerful builder and his realtor would laugh at us, but they didn’t. Suddenly they wanted to make a deal. Suddenly the city would work with us. So, we had a policeman at each end of the street pointing cars where to go, and we blocked the street 4 houses in, just as I had suggested. They truly feared negative publicity. Too bad they didn’t also initially respect our block party. But that was years ago.

One thing I like about St. Louis is that people living in the enclave cities around Wash U can still say St. Louis on the address, skipping Clayton or University City which people have never heard of. I wish we could forget about Bellaire and West U in the same way. I’m guessing we won’t have block parties in St. Louis in the neighborhood we chose, so maybe we’ll have to come back for the Art Car Parade, the block party, spring migration…oh dear!


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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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