A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that almost a third of Americans don’t know their neighbors. This number is even lower in suburban areas, with only 28% of people saying they know all or most of the people who live next door. While every town is different, this seems to be a growing trend.
One Scarsdale resident has taken matters into her own hands by starting block parties. Eugenie Rosenthal, her husband Brian and their three children moved to Heathcote two years ago. Rosenthal was no stranger to the area — she grew up on Innes Road and bought her childhood home. But she felt like the neighborhood didn’t have as strong a connection as it used to.
Taking inspiration from time they spent living in London where they had an annual block party, Rosenthal and her family decided to bring a similar experience to their Heathcote neighborhood.
“I am on a bit of a mission to create more of a sense of community in Scarsdale,” said Rosenthal.
Before coming to Scarsdale, the Rosenthal family lived in Mountain View, California, for eight years and London for three. When they first moved to California they held a block party to meet neighbors by dropping fliers at the neighbors’ doors. In London, the neighbors on their street had already been hosting block parties for years, which was one of the reasons the Rosenthals chose that neighborhood.
When it was time to relocate from London, Rosenthal knew she wanted to buy her family home in Scarsdale.
“Our immediate neighbors I’ve known most of my life — the Malinas next door have been here 53 years, the Silbersteins have been here 35 years and the Cantors across the street have been here 30 years,” said Rosenthal.
Despite growing up in Scarsdale and then moving back to a familiar neighborhood, the transition from California and London to Scarsdale was difficult.
“I’ve noticed that many people here don’t greet, or even make eye contact with people they don’t know. Maybe it’s a function of being so close to New York City, but newcomers to Scarsdale I’ve spoken to call it unfriendly, and frankly I have been intimidated by it at times as well,” said Rosenthal.
According to a study done by the University of Chicago, Mistakenly Seeking Solitude, researchers Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder found there are many benefits to talking to strangers. When asked if they would rather talk on the train or have a solitary commute, participants said they’d rather have the quiet commute. When the experiment was actually carried out, however, people who talked during their commute had a more pleasant experience, even if they talked to a stranger. Similar experiments in buses and taxis had similar results. When people talked to each other they left feeling more pleasant and better connected.
Determined to meet more neighbors, the Rosenthals decided to throw a block party.
Jeannie Rosenthal said it was easy to set one up through the village of Scarsdale website. She had to fill out questions about the event date and start time, barricade drop off info, estimated attendance, and if there would be music, tents or food trucks.
Josh Ringel, assistant to the village manager, helped Rosenthal get the paperwork started. The village manager’s office allows people who are interested in throwing block parties to come in and fill out forms on paper or through their website.
“We try to lay everything out and make it as simple and straightforward as possible,” said Ringel. “We prefer people do it online though, just because the time stamps are more accurate.”
Ringel said village officials aren’t for or against block parties, but they do believe such events are great community building opportunities, because they are so hyper-local.
So far no one has broken any rules regarding block parties, but Ringel explained loud music or more than one or two food trucks might prompt village officials to look into the matter, just to keep complaints at bay and to ensure emergency vehicles can get through if needed.
Certain roads, such as Popham or Post roads, cannot throw block parties due to the amount of traffic.
After the details got worked out, Rosenthal and her kids went up and down the street to invite people to the party and get signatures on a petition. In order for a block party request to go through, half the residents plus one on the street must indicate via the petition that they plan on attending the event. Rosenthal found it was a great way to introduce herself to the neighbors and something her kids enjoyed as well.
Usually block parties consist of 30 to 50 people, according to Ringel.
At the Innes Road event June 15, everyone brought a dish to share, including watermelon, chocolate babka, chips and guacamole, and hot dogs. Brian Rosenthal fired up a grill to cook Beyond Burgers — vegan burgers that taste like meat — so everyone could enjoy something from the grill.
A water balloon fight, open to anyone who wanted to participate, an ice cream truck stopping by, and upbeat music such as Old Town Road, by Lil Nas X, and Bad Guy, by Billie Eilish, livened up the atmosphere.
Julia Zecchini, a resident of Innes Road, was hesitant to go to the block party. Being the youngest of four and going into her senior year at college, she was worried there would be nothing for her at the party and it would only be parents and young children.
“Before I knew block parties were happening I remember having a conversation with my parents about how so many new people were moving in, and since none of us are in the school system anymore we felt like there was no way to normally meet people,” said Zecchini.
As soon as she got to the party she got a Beyond Burger, and was greeted by a neighbor, Richard Cantor. The two quickly bonded over being vegans.
“I would have never met Richard otherwise,” said Zecchini, “It’s crazy. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never met him before.”
Zecchini’s and Cantor’s interaction also highlighted the multigenerational aspect that Rosenthal hoped to get across.
“When you’re in a particular stage of life, it seems like everyone is in that stage of life,” Rosenthal said, “but even on your own street there is this multigenerational connection.”
Families from other streets stopped by to take notes on how to throw their own block party, such as Marlon Portes, who lives on Ardmore Road.
“I see the block parties as Jeannie Rosenthal does — a way to build community in a fun setting,” said Portes. “Scarsdale should be more than a set of infrastructure meetings. Regardless of age, it is clear to me that the people of Scarsdale want more positive interaction with their neighbors across Scarsdale.”
Portes wanted to note everything from the food served to the setup so he could throw a block party when his neighbor’s children return from camp in August.
“It may sound like a cliché from the 1950s,” said Rosenthal, “but I want to live in a community where neighbors know one another, where children run from house to house playing together, where neighbors can spontaneously share a bottle of wine, or borrow a cup of sugar and where there is a sense of multigenerational connection that enriches everyone.”
To learn more about how to plan block parties visit Scarsdale.com, go to How Do I... and click Apply for a Block Party, or go to Scarsdale Village Hall at 1001 Post Road.