I need to preface this article with the following statements. First, and most importantly I consider myself a friend to the St James Block Association and to Ms. Gail and Mr. Jo. I think that they are both valuable assets to our neighborhood and I believe wholeheartedly that the block party that they have curated was designed from a space of love and appreciation. Secondly, for full disclosure, my own mother and sister Keth were one of the first neighbors to join in with St. James Place in celebrating the essential workers. They continue to support the block party and can always be found at 7pm either on our stoop around the corner on Greene Avenue, or sitting on the stoop of friends on St. James Place. Lastly, this column isn’t written from a position of malice, but of concern for my neighbors and to offer a more sobering perspective of the block party in the hopes that conversations take place. Far too often, I’ve watched as my neighborhood has been made into a novelty by new neighbors or visitors. At this time in our lives, we can’t afford to risk our lives for the sake of novelty.
With all of that being said, we can now begin: The St. James Place block parties are irresponsible.
When the idea to applaud the essential workers at 7pm every night began, my neighborhood took to it with zeal. I’m the son of a retired cop. Our neighbors across the street are retired from Transit. We have retired firemen, retired postal workers and current and retired doctors that all live in this neighborhood. My dentist, Dr. Grannum has his office on St. James Place. We are a neighborhood that values essential workers. So, our neighborhood took pride in representing that. Nightly, you could find my mother and sister on our stoop ringing sleigh bells and banging pots. Others were doing the same. At the time, our city was in the throes of battling Covid-19. We were seeing hundreds of deaths and thousands of new cases every day. So, even as they celebrated, they kept the focus on social distancing. Once Mr. Jo brought his speakers out, the applause pivoted into a celebration of life. Again, that’s understandable given our circumstances. 86 days sheltering-in-place, all while friends and family and strangers were dying of Covid-19. We needed a chance to celebrate. We needed a chance to be free of the stress and anxiety. Music soothes, and so when he brought his speakers out the neighbors danced. FIrst, on their stoops. Then, in their front yards. And then, in the streets in front of their homes.
I took a trip out of town a couple weeks back. When I returned, the scene on St. James Place had changed for the worse. One day last week, I sat on my stoop and watched as people pulled up in cars and parked Revel scooters in front of my house so that they could go party around the corner on St. James Place. Out of curiosity, I questioned a group of women who had gotten out of an Uber right in front of my house. When I asked them where they were from, they said Queens. The Block Party was no longer a neighborhood thing. Now, it was an actual party. I watched people leave St. James Place to go buy adult beverages at Tarachi or at Peaches Shrimp and Crab, only to return to the block to continue to party. This thing had grown out of control and I waited for someone, either the organizers or other neighbors to realize it had gone too far.
But, there was nothing.
On the day that this column was written, it was reported that Covid -19 cases in NYC were on a slight rise. This was only days after this city experienced Covid-19 numbers lower than they were prior to quarantine. Compared to the surges that other states are experiencing, our surge is minimal. But, it is a surge nonetheless. We know for sure that an increase in social interactions causes an increase in new Covid-19 cases. Gov. Cuomo put a halt on the opening of indoor dining, in part, because of this. Allowing people into close quarters with one another increases the risk of contracting the virus, even if you’re wearing a mask.
Let’s say you are Covid-19 positive and do not know. And, let’s say that on your way to the bar you aren’t wearing a mask in your car. Say you cough and use your hand to cover your mouth and then minutes later when you arrive at the bar, you put your mask on. At the bar, you see a friend and you slap him five or even give him a fist bump. If that friend doesn’t sanitize his hands before touching his face, he can contract Covid-19, even if you both were wearing masks when you saw one another. This is the reason why indoor dining has been postponed. And this is also the reason why having hundreds of people from all over the city converge onto St James Place every night is a disaster waiting to happen.
This week, the Block Party IG page (yes, the block party has its own IG page) reported that the parties would be scaled back from every night to only on Friday through Sunday. While this is good news, what I’d love to see that page report on is the guidelines for people entering my neighborhood to party on the block adjacent to where my 80 year old father lives. These guidelines might want to include the following:
Limit the gatherings on the block during the party to the stoops and front yards of residents.
Create Hand Sanitizer stations at each end of the block, and mandate that anyone coming into the block party sanitize their hands.
Because having socially responsible rules of engagement is paramount to keeping people healthy and free of Covid-19. I implore the St James Block Association to consider drafting such rules, as it will ensure that people who come to the block to celebrate are doing so safely, and it will show those of us that live on the surrounding blocks that the organizers of the St. James Place block parties are committed to being good neighbors.