When Southeast Portland resident Allen Field decided over a decade ago to help his neighbor plan a block party as a celebration for his birthday, he had no idea what was in store for his beloved Richmond neighborhood. Fast forward 11 years to the present as Field is already hard at work preparing for the 11th annual, low-waste Grant Street Fayre.

With over 500 permits issued last year by the City of Portland, it seems every neighborhood wants a piece of the block party action. “Once school is out, block parties pretty much go steady from June until October,” says Kristan Alldrin from the City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, who loves seeing communities come together for block parties. “It’s all about encouraging good relationships with neighbors and creating community.”

Since block parties are such a big deal in Portland, the city makes it pretty simple for residents to host one.

Step one: Call your local neighborhood district coalition office well in advance (at least three weeks) for a Block Closure Application and for guidelines on your specific event like noise permits (typically $58, but they are free for National Night Out), barricades, etc.

Step two: Acquire signatures from neighbors who’s driveways or store fronts will be blocked by the party. “The signature is a notification, it’s not an authorization,” reminds Alldrin.

Step three: Turn in all paper work to your neighborhood coalition and, once approved, start planning the logistics of your event.

Taking a cue from Field’s sustainable twist on the block party concept, the City has begun to implement their own green block party system. “This year we’re trying to do more electronically [with the block party application process] to reduce paper waste and make it more streamlined,” says Alldrin, who would like to see more block parties taking steps to minimize their impact on the environment.

Entertainment at the Grant Street Fayre. Photo: Allen Field
Entertainment at the Grant Street Fayre. Photo: Allen Field

With a master recycler in the neighborhood, Field had no trouble turning their street fair into a green block party. “Our party’s been getting better over time, and about two years ago we decided to add in the composting and recycling element,” recalls Fields, who began planning for the August 7, 2010 party in early February of this year. “Now we put out green roll carts and collect all food scraps, paper plates and napkins. Then I just compost that in my backyard compost bin.”

The Grant Street Fayre is held every year during National Night Out when the Block Closure Application fees and Noise Permit fees are waived, allowing residents to donate money to more sustainable party items like durable dishware and silverware, recyclable irrigation hose for the “make your own hula-hoop” workshop for the kids, local bands like the Midnight Serenaders and Sweet Tooth, and the not-so-sustainable-but-super-fun dunk tank.

Although Allen takes on the bulk of the responsibility by storing the dishes, silverware and barricades in his basement year-round, he knows that the reason the event is successful year-after-year is because of his dedicated neighbors. “What works for us is that we have a lot of people helping out on the street and we try to improve it every year,” says Field. “It’s a big potluck. We usually have three 10-foot long tables chock full of food, I usually smoke one or two whole salmon, we haul out four barbeques from people’s houses, and some years we’ve gotten donations from companies like Odwalla.”

Grant Street Fayre. Photo: Allen Field
Grant Street Fayre. Photo: Allen Field

In a society where fences are high and front porches have moved to the backyard, creating community is more important than ever. That’s the beauty of block parties—neighbors can come together to pitch-in and have fun … in a sustainable way!

Allen’s Top Ten Tips to Green-Up Your Block Party

  1. Be organized and pool together resources to share barbecues, recycle bins, durable plates and silverware, etc.
  2. Keep a set of durable plates and silverware for block party use. One person can store it or households can take turns storing them.
  3. Buy a set of dishware and silverware from Goodwill—it’s cheap!
  4. Keep those plastic beer festival cups. Our Richmond neighborhood now has 50 plus cups from years of attending summer and winter beer festivals.
  5. Apply for a Recycling Small Grant to buy a set of durable dishes and silverware through the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability if your event is large enough.
  6. Contact Portland’s Event Recycling Program (503.725.5147) for free event recycling assistance and collections material from the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. They will help you set up recycling stations for a wide variety of materials.
  7. Set up your own home-made recycling stations along the street, like we do at the Grant Street Fayre. Depending on the size of you block party, one may be enough, or you may need multiple stations for larger parties. We use three for our party with over 300 guests.
  8. Organize your recycling stations. At the recycling stations, if you set up your own, have:
    • Blue curbside roll-cart for curbside recyclable material
    • A bin for curbside glass bottles (deposit bottles can be separated out for store returns or donating)
    • A bin for Far West Fibers material: plastic clamshell trays, plastic bags, plastic utensils, food take-away boxes (all food must be rinsed off or collected in a blue roll-cart to sort out later).
    • Cans (or green curbside roll-carts) for food scraps (no meat) and paper plates (no plastic coating) and napkins, BUT only if someone can toss this in their backyard compost pile, like I do, and, DO NOT put food scraps out for curbside yard debris collection
    • Tubs with soapy water for dirty dishes and silverware
  9. Clearly label the various bins and attach samples to show what should go in to the bins (e.g., attach paper plate and napkin to compost bin).
  10. Get one to three people to agree to be in charge of the various tasks listed above.

How’s your neighborhood block party striving to go green?