Building community can bring joy to everyone involved with the project. In the best cases, the activity doesn’t seem like a project, but rather more like a gift. Such was the case as what has become the Fairoaks Festival evolved from its modest beginnings.
The neighborhood group that rose from the deep, rich conversations associated with the Northwest Earth Institute’s “Developing a Sense of Place” course produced Urban Green early on, which in turn resulted in the projects described here in the web site. That group also hatched a plan for a neighborhood block party as a way to connect with even more neighbors and grow the community further.
So in the summer of 2007, this small group put together a party that drew 50 or 60 people. There was some pot luck food, a few activities for the kids, a bit of music, and neighbors starting to get to know one another.
Ten years later, the annual party is a “must attend” event in the community, typically bringing out 200-250 people. The food is outstanding and plentiful, there is a parade, the kids’ activities have become quite creative, and the music is amazing. At this point, most people in the neighborhood know each other, by sight or by name, and people schedule their summer vacations around the event. As the photos here show, this kind of community is a joy to live in – a social and spiritual blessing for everyone involved.
On a quiet, wooded street in Oak Grove, a neighbor went from house to house with a proposal for an educational gathering being offered by the Northwest Earth Institute, a nonprofit organization in Portland, Oregon that has the intention of “inspiring people to take responsibility for the Earth.” The neighbor was able to pull together about 20 people who were willing to give it a try.
They met one evening and discussed which of several “courses” to focus on and the group decided on “Discovering a Sense of Place.” The setup was simple. The 8week course material is a workbook which each person bought (about $15). No charge otherwise. The class would migrate to a new member’s house each week.
That week’s host would provide some food and drink and a comfortable place to discuss that week’s topic. Another person, a moderator, would lead the discussion.
The rules of communication were such that everyone got a chance to share their views without being criticized or interrupted. Everyone got a chance to be understood.
Over several weeks, the participants got to know the elements that made up their community: where the water comes from and the sewage goes, the history of the area, important landmarks, details of the local geology and ecology, the local political system, security interests, where to shop. They actually did discover the place they lived and from this they developed a “sense of place.” As the course progressed, a bond between the members deepened. In some, perhaps lucky way, they saw how they shared the same basic values and, in the context of honest discussion, pleasant surroundings, and good food to share, they became more closely connected. They began to do various projects together. They spent time with each other at parties and other social events. They’d help each other out. On a whim, they called themselves the “Good Neighbors Association” or GNA.
Along the way, a second group formed, similar to the first, and worked their way through “Discovering a Sense of Place” and this group more or less merged with the other. There were now about 30 people in really good social connection.
At one point, a few people promoted the idea of a “Fairoaks Avenue Block Party” to carry forward the ongoing efforts of building community in the neighborhood. It was scheduled for the late summer of 2008. About a dozen members of the GNA got together and planned it.
Several members volunteered to have their yards be the center of activity. One member’s broad driveway was set up and decorated for the music, another for the “food court” where tables were set up to receive the potluck food people would bring. A number of popup canopies were gathered for the event by the neighbors and arranged to give protection from the fierce latesummer sun. One couple volunteered to make posters advertising the party, and others planned events for the children. One member who ran a popular local open mic evening at the nearby coffee house arranged for some bands to play and volunteered to set up a public address system. Everyone was encouraged to be in a big parade which would initiate the festivities on the day of the party. We had a firetruck, an electric car (unusual in 2008), decorated bicycles, and some cute floats dragged along by children. We had events for the children, including a treasure hunt, face painting, and big bubbles.
People came together to decorate a six block section of the street with colorful flags, kites, and art. Tall umbulumbultype flags (colorful tall, thin, triangular flags on long bamboo poles) were arched artfully over the street. Colorful flags and kites were hung from ropes stretching through frontyard trees. This attracted a lot of attention and was instrumental in announcing the block party to the local households.
A large 4 foot by 8 foot map was erected and everyone was encouraged to mark where they lived on it. A local group called the “History Detectives” were invited to set up a booth and answer questions about the history of the area. This helped to propagate the idea of a sense of place to others who were not able to attend the Sense of Place classes.
The group made a decision to not have political or business booths. It would be strictly a gathering for fun and getting to know one another. No agenda other than that.
It was a festive afternoon, and about 100 people showed up for it. A noisey and exuberant parade started the festivities. People sang, chanted and banged on bells and gongs. It was all very silly. The kids loved it and the parents cheered as the parade went by. Everyone openly greeted each other and new friendships and acquaintances were started. A good time was had by all.
First Sunday of August Every Year