If you spent any time walking or driving around Chicago’s neighborhoods this summer, you probably bumped into a block party, or went to one yourself.
Block parties are a Chicago summer staple, where neighbors can ask the city to close down their street to traffic, let their kids run freely between houses, and spend time with new and old friends on the block. Chicagoans can request that the city’s “Jumping Jack” program send a bouncy castle for kids to enjoy for free. Residents can even ask for a visit from a local fire truck or from mounted police horses.
There have been about 3,700 block party permits issued across the city so far this year, the most since before the pandemic. The city sent more than 700 free bouncy castles to Chicagoans who requested them, and fielded more than 600 requests for a visit from a fire truck.
As summer winded down, we visited three neighborhood block parties across the city to capture how city residents enjoyed their open blocks.
Little Village, Saturday, Sept. 2
Rey Raigoza is the founder and executive director of Urban Warriors, a youth development nonprofit. He came together with a few neighbors, as they do every year, to organize a block party at 28th Street and South Avers Avenue where he grew up and still lives.
As he was planning this block party, Raigoza reflected on the annual block parties from his childhood. “It was a day we circled, literally,” Raigoza told me.Raigoza showed up to the block party with boxes filled with free soccer balls, left over from a sponsorship event for an Urban Warriors all-girls soccer team. As soon as he opened the box, a steady stream of kids stopped by to claim a ball. The kids then gathered in the makeshift soccer field they’d created in the middle of the street.
Portage Park, Sunday, Sept. 3
Portage Park on the Northwest Side had the most block parties this year of any community in the city. I stopped by one in the 4800 block of West Warner Avenue, where many young families were out enjoying a hot but beautiful day. Families on the block look forward to the annual block party — once the yearly debate over what weekend to do it on is settled.Carlos Martinez has lived on the block for more than 30 years. Martinez said, when he first moved in, block parties were held every year and organized by the alderman, who also lived on the block. Martinez said the block parties died off for a while, and now, they’re back.
Englewood, Saturday, Sept. 9
The following weekend in Englewood, Kusanya Cafe threw a block party in the 6900 block of Green Street, where the cafe is located, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its opening with neighbors and cafe regulars.
Meosha Thomas is an art teacher in Englewood, who teaches entrepreneurship as art and art as a form of social justice. She set up a snow cone stand at Kusanya’s block party, serving up elaborate iced treats topped with candy for community members.Jonathon “Pastah J” Brooks is a pastor at Lawndale Christian Community Church, and a board member of Kusanya who helped plan the event. He’s loved block parties ever since his childhood in West Englewood, just a couple of miles away. Brooks and other Kusanya board members brainstormed many ideas for how to celebrate the cafe’s anniversary. They decided tapping into Chicago’s block party tradition would be the most meaningful way to honor the community that has supported them for years.
While block parties have been around for many decades, Brooks said, these days, they’re more important to him than ever.
“You still see the same spark, especially post-pandemic, when we were all kind of trapped in to just have the opportunity to just be outside together,” he said. “I think block parties kind of take on a new meaning now because we understand the value of being together.”
Claire Kurgan is a data news intern at WBEZ.
Amy Qin and Jessica Alvarado Gamez contributed reporting to this story.
Correction: The last name of a subject in a photo caption for this story has been corrected; it’s Palacios not Palacio.