A Halloween block party expected to take place on the 1700 block of Gratz Street on Nov. 1 was cancelled by Temple Police due to heightened tension between local residents and Temple students on the streets surrounding the block.
“We had some serious issues with students living on that block and felt a block party would cause more tension with our neighbors,” Charlie Leone, executive director of Campus Safety Services, said in an email.
He also cited issues that rose from past block parties.
“We had a few block parties in the recent past that caused major problems with drinking, fighting and vandalism,” Leone said. “We felt this was the right thing to do considering the climate.”
Keenan O’Connell, a senior media studies and production major, was the head organizer for the party.
O’Connell, with his company Tier 33 Productions, said he planned for the event to include Temple student performers in addition to local vendors and nine local performers. He also planned to have security around the area.
The event was advertised on Craigslist and on bestevents.us, where it was deemed the “Block Boonanza.” On Facebook, around 11,000 invites were sent out, though the event’s page has since been taken down.
Debbie Brockington, the block captain on the 1700 block of Gratz Street, said she didn’t agree with the decision to cancel the block party. She said she and community members on her block supported the event. Since the announcement, she’s been fighting to get the event reinstated.
Brockington said she and students living on the block had made preparations for the event throughout the past six months. They acquired the permit for the party, which required signatures of approval from at least three-quarters of the residents on the block and payment of a non-refundable $50 deposit, she said.
Brockington said the experience she’s had with the Temple students on her block has always been positive.
“They’re nice kids to me,” Brockington said. “No complaints.”
Donnie Moore, the block captain on 19th Street, said he saw how the event could have led to further problems. The behavior of student neighbors on the adjacent Gratz Street has been a consistent issue for he and other residents on his block, he said.
“[There’s been] wild parties since day one,” Moore said.
Moore said parties are a constant nuisance for 19th Street residents, some of whom have not been able to sleep on the weekends because of the noise level. Moore said he has tried to address the issue before to no avail.
“They don’t respect their neighborhood,” Moore said of the students.
Grievances like Moore’s led to Temple Police’s decision to cancel the student- and neighborhood-run Halloween block party.
“Why not one time, for one holiday, have a community vibe, a community party, that shows everyone having a good time?” O’Connell said. “It’s not some kind of battle with two sides.”
Spencer Forman, a sophomore MSP major and one of the promoters for the event, discussed a Labor Day block party which he said bonded the community.
“I think [Brockington] just saw how it brought everything together and this just a larger scale, so it might just work out,” Forman said.
O’Connell said he believes police are concerned about students’ safety and worried about the event becoming out of control. He referenced a block party held on Park Avenue in the spring, which quickly got out of hand.
O’Connell said that while a block party might not have mended the relationship between residents on the surrounding streets and students on Gratz, he still believes that the relationship can be made better.
Moore said another issue was the cans and other trash left over from parties, which is thrown into residents’ yards and strewn on the sidewalks. Moore said the trash is a potential fire hazard.
Sarah Stankiewicz, a sophomore public health major and a resident on the 1700 block of Gratz, said her house has received two $25 fines for trash from nearby parties that ended up on the sidewalk in front of their house, and said the trash was a cause for complaint from residents on neighboring streets.
Noise from parties has also been a cause for complaint, for both residents and some students.
“Even if I close all my windows I can hear it,” said Helen Van Natta, a sophomore engineering major who lives on the block.
Tensions came to a head on Oct. 4, when according to a Philadelphia Daily News article a student shouted racial slurs on the street.
Although student and community residents on Gratz Street believe the allegations are false, they said the news led to increased police attention to the block. In addition, residents said they believe it was one of the causes for the block party cancellation.
Brandon Lausch, a university spokesman, said Temple Police sent out a copy of the Good Neighbor Policy to students after the incident. He said that Temple with the Philadelphia police give further attention to areas of concern such as Gratz Street, although it is outside the Temple Police patrol boundaries, which were extended west to 18th Street in September.
In addition, City Council President Darrell Clarke proposed a bill on Oct. 10 which would hold landlords accountable for student conduct. Under the legislation, landlords would be required to hire a supervisor for residences with student tenants and notify Temple of any student code violations like excessive noise, destruction of property or alcohol consumption.
Forman said more communication between students and residents on the block would have a larger impact in easing tension than increased police interaction. He said when he first moved onto Gratz Street, he introduced himself to the neighbors and asked them to come to him if they ever had any concerns.
Forman said he was impacted by hearing residents’ stories at a recent community meeting, where they addressed their concerns about the neighborhood, and said attending would benefit students.
“Just having the cops banging on [a student’s] door every weekend [during a party], like, ‘OK, time to shut it down,’ that doesn’t do anything,” Forman said.
“But if you sit there and hear, ‘I have to wake up at four in the morning for my job but I can’t sleep because there’s music playing until 2 in the morning and then drunk kids running through the street at three. …’ You’re just like holy s—, you don’t even necessarily realize how much one party can affect somebody’s life,” Forman said.
Forman said he hasn’t thrown any parties since attending the meeting.
Brockington said there are plenty of students like Forman who have been conscious and considerate of the local neighbors.
“They knock on my door, they’ll ask me, ‘Is the music too loud? I’ll turn it down,’” Brockington said.
She added that she doesn’t want all students to be criticized because of the actions of a few.
“[The students] just want to be heard,” Brockington said. “They don’t want to be shut out, made the bad guy because of one bad apple, it’s not fair.”
Forman said that often there is a connection which is missing between some of the students and the neighbors.
“When I walk by, I smile at [my neighbors],” Forman said. “It’s just the normal, everyday interactions with your neighbors that I think most people shy away from,”
Forman and O’Connell said they want to see the relationship between student and community residents improve, even if it isn’t through the block party.
“I don’t think throwing a block party with a couple thousand kids would have done it the right way, that might have gotten a little out of hand,” O’Connell said. “But I think it can be done.”
O’Connell said he has plans for a spring event which would take place on campus.
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