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Block parties held to introduce residents, boost communication

Joseph McMahon | Friday, October 10, 2008

With tensions between students and South Bend residents reaching a boiling point in recent weeks, local landlord Mark Kramer and Student Government leaders have united to attempt to repair the strained relations by hosting block parties.

“Hopefully [the block parties are] going to repair the relations. We’re just trying to build a rapport between the students in the community and their neighbors so that the tensions are not as high,” Kramer said.

The block parties, which feature free food, a live band and safety presentations from local police departments, provide a casual forum where students and residents can interact and get to know each other.

“We really want them to be able to talk on the same level because we’re all residents of South Bend here, and we just thought the block party would be the perfect environment for that to happen,” off-campus president Billy Lyman said.

Kramer said he has actually been holding block parties for the last eight years; however, in the wake of the ordinance last year, the focus of the events switched from safety to improving community relations.

“The whole purpose when I started eight years ago was to present crime prevention to the students and to get them acclimated to the neighborhood,” he said. “Last year, we had a major focus on Notre Dame Ave. when we created Corby Row and some of the neighbors were a little concerned about students moving closer to them. So we set up a block party last year to introduce the students to the neighbors.”

The first block party of the semester was held last Sunday at the intersection of Washington St. and St. Peter St. Kramer said while about 150 students came out, the response from the community was lackluster. However, several members of the South Bend Common Council have pledged to attend the next two, which will be held Friday at Lafayette Apartments and Sunday at Colfax Row Houses.

“Hopefully these next two will get more of a response because the whole idea is to build a rapport with the neighbors and take a proactive approach as opposed to waiting for the negative to happen, like at 702 Colfax Ave. a couple weeks ago,” Kramer said, referencing the arrests of 37 Notre Dame students for drinking-related offences.

Lyman said the enthusiastic response by the students was a result of them wanting to demonstrate that, contrary to the belief of many South Bend residents, they are good neighbors.

“From the students that came last Sunday, they really thought it was a great idea. The students really wanted to be a part of this,” he said. “The students have been getting a bad rap in South Bend and they obviously want to change that.”

Both Kramer and Lyman said they will be aggressively advertising the next two events, which they said would help improve community relations in those areas. Lyman said the block parties provide a forum where students can show community leaders that their reputation as wild partiers is unwarranted.

“We’re going to be canvassing the neighborhood over the next couple of days because we really want to try to get as many neighbors as we can out there because we want to show them that the student body really cares about their fellow residents of South Bend,” Lyman said.

Kramer has also been aggressively advertising. Student body president Bob Reish said Kramer had been canvassing the neighborhood, and was even raffling off a month of free rent to one lucky student at each block party.

“Mark Kramer is actually delivering postage notes throughout the mailboxes of various community members,” Reish said. “It is a step in the right direction.”

Chair of the Senate Committee on Community Relation Gus Gari said he was grateful to Kramer for his help, but added he hoped student government would eventually begin throwing their own block parties.

“Eventually our goal within the coming year is to do our own block parties and not just Kramer’s,” Gari said. “That’ll be a collaboration between the next Community Relations Committee and the Off-Campus Council.”

However, Kramer said his main goal was to build mutual understanding between the students and their neighbors.

“We want to let the neighbors get to know the students for whom they really are and that is good people that are bright and the future leaders of our country,” he said. “On the other hand I think the students need to recognize that the neighbors are good people too and they just want to have a peaceful environment and they also want to get along with the students.”