Block Party

By Bruce Firestone | Real Estate

Nov 19

Take up the challenge: Organize a Block Party for your Street and Experiment with New Urban Forms like they do in Rotterdam 

A useful definition of “block party” comes from Wikipedia:

A block party or street party is a crowded party in which many members of a single community congregate, either to observe an event of some importance or simply for mutual enjoyment. The name comes from the form of the party, which often involves closing an entire city block to vehicle traffic. Many times, there will be a celebration in the form of playing music and dance and activities like pony rides, inflatable slides, pop corn machines and barbecues.

As a form of activism street parties are festive and/or artistic efforts to reclaim roadways as public space by large groups of people. They were made known in Western Europe and North America by the actions of Reclaim the Streets, a widespread “dis-organization” dedicated to reclaiming public space from automobiles and consumerism.

When I was younger, I used to organize occasional block parties for our street in a western suburb of Ottawa (Kanata) together with my unpaid child laborers–my five kids.

We’d have Little Ray’s Reptile Adventures come with their portable zoo to gross everyone out with giant pythons, cobras, rattlesnakes, sloths, alligators, tarantulas, marmosets and other frightening spectacles.

And we’d have street tournaments for the kids–we’d play ultimate, street paddle tennis and other fun games.

But I am using it here in a very different manner–how about reclaiming your block from the dead hands of urban planners. That’d be cause for a real party.

When I interviewed the new head of planning at the city of Ottawa (Steve Willis,, I asked him this question:

“Steve, would you ever consider doing a Rotterdam here?”

He knew exactly what I was asking: Rotterdam, threatened by rising waters, was a failing port city in the Netherlands, which reinvented itself as an experimental city, a Concept House Village testbed where residents could try far-out, sustainable architecture ideas.

In my latest real estate book, Why and Why Not to Invest in Real Estate,, I said this about the Rotterdam experiment:

… there is no
industry bigger than the real estate industry—everyone needs a place to live,
shop, work, learn, make, play, earn… so if we could take the planning shackles
off urban designers and real estate investors, they’d be able to create a much
more vigorous environment for everyone else to generate wealth in.

Hey, they did
it in Rotterdam, a failing industrial port city
in the Netherlands,
which is now a world-leading hotbed of highly experimental, sustainable urban
development and design[1]. Ottawa could do worse than
follow their lead—so what about co-opting an entire neighborhood here where
creative new solutions to off-grid energy issues, grow local, or
live-work-play-shop-learn-make-entertain challenges could be encouraged without
the dead hand and expense of planning regulators shooting them down in flames?

All that is
needed is political will and political leadership, things that are generally in
short supply in a world where, as I’ve noted before, the only thing that most
politicians seem to stand for is reelection.

[1] It’s called Concept House
Village, a test bed for
neo-urbanist ideas and sustainable built forms. “Concept House
Village is an attempt to
take things in different directions, experimenting with more radical features,
such as a garden that takes up the entire second floor. It’s an example of
something that’s common in Rotterdam:
This is a city that loves to play with new ideas… the city also helps push to
make those solutions happen. A competition called CityLab010, for example, will
give out more than 3 million Euros in 2016 to the best new ideas—in categories
like sustainability and education–to improve the city,” Adele Peters, staff
writer at Fast Company, Experimental
City: How Rotterdam Became A World Leader In Sustainable Urban Design
, Dec
5, 2016.

Interestingly, Mr Willis agreed that he would, indeed, consider such a thing, which means… you could organize your block and, if they all wanted to participate or at a minimum agree to let others on their block join, you would have a micro community willing to experiment with new urban forms.

For example, I have in mind for our home, a modest split-level place in an inner-city location, the following program–

-it already has a 1-bedroom, sideyard, tenanted (legal) apartment,

-frontyard parking,

-a mini farm (where my bride grows corn, beans, potatoes, herbs, apples, pears, and veggies) and

-a garage office (where I am currently sitting writing these stupendous articles).

In addition, I’d like to add–

-a coach house,

-another storage shed,

-a workshop (or, as millennials call it “maker space”),

-a backyard games area,

-plus, walkway and laneway awnings (I’m getting too old to clear snow and would prefer to stay in my place rather than move to an old folks home—you know, those vertical warehouses where people go to await death.)

What’s also in my mind is more smart home technology, energy, rainwater recycling and solar hot water.

If I could (within the law), I’d add a tiny house as well.

If I could get my neighbors to agree, I’d Rotterdam’ize Henry Farm drive (our street). And because of the street’s name (Henry FARM drive) and my spouse’s love for growing things, I’d have corn planted up and down the street, so we could feed ourselves and have a corn roast at every street party too.

And guess what, our real estate values would go up not down, I am quite sure about that. In addition, it’d bring our street community closer together; we’d get to know our neighbors better; it’d be a more fun place to live and other people would self-select to live on our street as well.

Prof Bruce

Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD, Ottawa Senators founder, Real Estate Investment and Business coach, ROYAL LePAGE Performance Realty broker, 1-613-762-8884


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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.