Foot traffic can be rare in Mitton Village at times, but a group of neighbours has vowed to break the silence this summer.
Armed with tape measures and sidewalk chalk, they’re laying the groundwork for the inaugural Mitton Village Block Party, scheduled for Aug. 24 and complete with live music, food, vendors and art installations.
“We want neighbours to come out and meet neighbours, and we want people to come out and have fun,” said organizer Josh Walters, as he brainstorms with organizers in the centre of the municipal parking lot — a stone’s throw from the Five Corners intersection.
The committee, comprised of area residents, discusses the location of a stage, tent and where to line-up food vendors. There’s also talk of a “bump” basketball tournament.
The atmosphere will be family friendly and alcohol-free, Walters explains.
Initial event plans called for the closure of Mitton Street as well, but that was scrapped to keep costs down, Walters said. Instead, they hope to have ‘islands’ of live music and art set-up in front of willing Mitton Street businesses.
“We want it to be very DIY, very grass roots,” said Walters. “Remind people that you can have fun for free.”
This winter The Journal reported on what seemed like a mini exodus of businesses fleeing the south end neighbourhood, exhausted by break-ins and crime. The former Bargain Shop, with its loud red exterior, sits deserted. Across the street a former 7-11 also sits vacant, lawn overgrown and siding flaking off like scales.
In response to the downturn, the Mitton Village Community Development Advisory Committee (MVCDC) formed a year ago, struck by city council to recommend improvements. They met for the first time April 9 and discussed everything from rebranding to neighbourhood barbecues.
This spring several new businesses have moved back into the neighbourhood, and Walters says the committee has been supportive of the Block Party.
For many organizers this is more than a street party – it’s a statement that this neighbourhood is worth fighting for.
Organizer Michelle Walters sees the Block Party as another step towards revitalization. “We wanted to live where we feel like it was walkable, where we had neighbours, the same reasons why we want to do this Block Party.”
“We all want to live in Sarnia for a long time, and we all want to see the areas… thrive. That would be a huge thing that we all have in common,” added organizer Colin McColeman.
Putting people back on the sidewalks and in the streets of the area will help improve safety and security, said Sarnia Police Chief Norm Hansen at a recent committee meeting.
On May 6 Sarnia City Council voted to subsidize half the municipal fees for the Block Party.