Parkside block party aims to build bridges toward a safer neighborhood

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PORTLAND — Several neighborhood organizations are pooling their expertise and resources to throw a block party on Oct. 17 for the city’s Parkside residents.

Saturday’s party will take place from noon to 2:30 p.m. at Sherman and Mellen streets, next to the Sacred Heart/St. Dominic’s Parish church. There will be live music, a bounce house for children, face-painting, games and food ranging from hot dogs and pizza to seasonal favorites like apple cider and pumpkin and apple pies.

Spiral Arts, a community arts program based in Parkside, will be spearheading a community painting project that will be assembled as a public exhibit called “The Many Faces of Parkside.”   

Neighborhood organizers hope the event will not only provide the neighborhood with free entertainment, but enroll more residents in a neighborhood watch program that is gathering momentum after a slow start.   

Parkside Neighborhood Association President Robert Giovannini said the association will have a table where residents can get a neighborhood watch packet, which includes a window decal, a whistle key chain that lists the non-emergency phone number of the Portland police, and information about what type of details to give police when reporting suspicious activity. 

The neighborhood watch was supposed to be rolled out in July, but Giovannini said there was a delay in getting the printed materials, including a coupon for 20 percent off dinner at the Top of the East at the Eastland Hotel on High Street, as well as a green and gray tote bag with a Parkside logo. 

Parkside is the neighborhood defined by Forest Avenue, St. John Street, Deering Oaks Park and Congress Street. It is one of the most ethnically and socioeconomically diverse and densely populated areas in the state.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Parkside has a population 4,676, the fifth-largest in the city, but has grown over the years. Half of the residents are under 34 years old and rent their homes.

Regardless of the late start, neighborhood organizers have ambitious goals for the neighborhood watch program. Over the next year, the group wants to enroll 2,000 residents and reduce crime by 30 percent from January to August, 2010.

Giovannini said the reduction in crime would likely be achievable simply if people locked their doors and windows.

“It’s a very aggressive goal,” he said. “But there’s some low-hanging fruit we can tackle.”

Giovannini said that by word of mouth and setting up a stand at the farmer’s market in Deering Oaks Park, the PNA has registered more than 100 people for the neighborhood watch. 

Crime in Parkside has dropped by 20 percent this year, Giovannini said, a trend the neighborhood association would like to continue. He said neighborhood watch, along with a new community policing program unveiled by Portland police this week, are two steps in the right direction. 

Saturday’s block party will be the second party in as many months. Giovannini said an August block party, which was both well-attended (about 200 people) and well-received by the residents, was a success both in terms of turnout and the range of community organizations that participated and continue to show interest in the neighborhood.

Those organizations include the United Methodist communities of Hope.Gate.Way., Immanuel Baptist Church, Sacred Heart/St. Dominic Catholic Church, PROP’s Parkside Neighborhood Center, Parkside Community Policing, Spiral Arts, La Bodega Latina, Wayside Soup Kitchen, Community Partnerships for Protecting Children and the Mellen Street Market.

“We’re anticipating 300 to 400 people this time.” Giovannini said. “It’s great. We’re crossing religious, cultural and cultural boundaries and involving businesses and residents.”

He said neighborhood parties are a way to build the bridges. 

“The more events you can do, it builds greater pride and cohesion in the neighborhood,” Giovannini said. “The more you get to know your neighbor, the more you will look out for them.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or