By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Bowling Green’s block party on Saturday met all the qualifications – live music, food, dogs and people of all ages.
Spectators sat on straw bales as they watched musicians perform from the makeshift stage, complete with cardboard curtains, in front of the county courthouse. Children played games of giant checkers and got their faces painted. The hungry filled up on Chicago dogs and onion rings. And young and old pedaled along the temporary bike lane along East Court Street.
“It’s close to perfect,” said Heather Sayler, city planning director who was in charge of organizing the Court Street Connects event.
“We’ve had a constant stream of people since 10 o’clock,” she said. “I don’t think we could ask for anything better.”
The block party was the brainchild of the city’s Community Action Plan process. At a series of public meetings, Bowling Green residents were asked what project they wanted to try out first in an effort to improve neighborhoods on the East Side.
The block party was top on the list.
“This is great,” said Adam Rosa, a principle with Camiros, the consulting firm helping with the Community Action Plan. “It’s amazing how much energy has gone into this. It’s great seeing all the energy.”
The goal of Court Street Connects goes far beyond the one-day block party.
“When people see changes in their neighborhood, it brings other positive changes,” Rosa said. “It will help with decision making about what we want to do.”
“This makes people recognize this area could be more,” she said.
The event created new and strengthened existing relationships between neighborhood groups, the city and students.
“These partnerships will be great,” Sayler said.
The event also served its purpose of bringing campus and community together – with all ages attending the block party.
“That’s been really cool to see,” Rosa said.
For example, the event brought Karen Walters and some young thespians from Horizon Youth Theatre to the event. After performing in front of the courthouse, they checked out the chairs made by BGSU students from recycled wood pallets, they tried out the bike lane, and got some free bike helmets.
“I think it’s a nice idea to celebrate the connections” between the campus and community, Walters said. “We have so many advantages in town because of the connections, so it’s nice to celebrate that.”
On the other side of the courthouse lawn, three BGSU students were checking out information on county parks and on sustainable energy.
“I think it’s cool,” said Logan VanDyke, from Hicksville. “It’s nice to have something to do here that’s not the usual – and doesn’t involve alcohol.”
The students were particularly interested in the bike lane painted on Court Street for the event.
“I think the idea of a bike lane is really cool,” Becca Hunt, of Youngstown, said. “Maybe I’d get a bike if there were bike lanes in town.”
Matthew Taylor, of Youngstown, was glad student artists were involved in the block party. Across the street, several artists displayed their artwork for sale. “Arts aren’t always a part of the community,” Taylor said. “It’s nice to see that as a part of the community here.”
On the street in front of the courthouse, youngsters Asher and Amelia Martin were facing off in a game of giant checkers. Prior to that, they participated in a scavenger hunt, visited the bookmobile and rode some borrowed bikes.
“We’ve had lots of fun,” said Kathy Martin, Elida, who was in town babysitting the kids.
In addition to bringing the community together, the Court Street Connects event was designed to emphasize the geographic connection between the campus and downtown. That included the bike lane being temporarily painted onto Court Street.
“It’s what people have been really interested in,” Sayler said of the bike lane. “This is a nice opportunity for people to try that.”
On Saturday, the bike lane, along the south side of Court Street, proved to be a hit.
“All day long, adults and kids have been riding up and down – having a wonderful time,” said Steve Langendorfer, chairman of the city’s Bicycle Safety Commission.
The bike lane will be left up for a week so people can try it out.
Langendorfer said the bicycle safety commission is recommending to the city that three different options be put in place for bicyclists. Since it’s unrealistic to have bike lanes on most streets, the commission is suggesting a combination of features – especially for routes to popular destinations like City Park or the schools.
Where streets are wide enough and it’s appropriate, bike lanes may be established, Langendorfer said. On narrower streets, painted on sharrows may be used. And in places where neither is possible, signs stating “Bikes may use full lane” could be installed.
To encourage safe biking, the commission handed out many free bike helmets during Court Street Connects event on Saturday.
The block party also featured tours of the historic Wood County Courthouse, some attention seeking dogs from the humane society, a fire safety trailer, food trucks, and several community groups explaining the services they provide in Bowling Green.
Jessica Yoder, of Bowling Green, arrived too late for the courthouse tours, but in time to get a bike helmet for her young son.
“Something like this is always good,” she said of the block party. “I’ll look forward to it again.”