Children frolicked along Duane Avenue, their parents lounging on porch steps, watching from afar on a sunny and blazing hot Saturday.
Roadblocks cordoned off a portion of the city street, as balloons, face painting, barbecued meat and watermelon created a pocket of merriment in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood.
“People see that people are coming out and having a good time together and that when a crowd’s gathered it’s not always about something negative,” said Marion Porterfield, a neighborhood resident and City Council member. “There’s a feeling of safety in the street that it’s a place you can be with kids running and playing and enjoying themselves without any sense of menace.”
A revived Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association was able to take over the annual block party this year, marking its first year organizing the afternoon event. The association was dormant for a few years, but its members are hoping that with some good summertime fun the beleaguered community will unite.
It took association member Marva Isaacs about two months to plan the event, complete with a face-painting booth, a Kids ID station run by two city police officers, a bounce house, disc jockey and lots of food.
“It’s important that we reach the people in the neighborhood because I’m telling you, you have to get to them or there would be nothing done in the neighborhood,” said Isaacs. “I’ve been fighting for this neighborhood for years now.”
For an afternoon with temperatures in the 90s, a breeze was a welcome respite from muggy oppression. But it managed to knock down a canopy shading the Kids ID booth and carry crinkled aluminum foil covering food down the street.
As organizers ran around trying to catch some of the runaway items, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, mingled with residents and ate some classic summer fare.
“I just had some great barbecue sauce on my hot dog,” he said, pointing to a table of food where Isaacs was stirring curry.
The block party was a great chance to hear what was on residents’ minds in a casual setting, said Tonko.
So what was on people’s minds Saturday?
“Employment, issues about work, quality of life in the community,” he said. “People all have the same dreams for their children, and so it’s nice to be here to let them know you share in that dream.”
Quality of life in the neighborhood is something a handful of people are trying to improve. Association members have had discussions with city officials about the negative perception outsiders have of Hamilton Hill.
Some of it is really simple and basic, said Porterfield, who was able to persuade retiring city Police Chief Mark Chaires to organize a litter sweep of the community.
“We’re working on changing that [perception],” she said, “because a lot of the people who talk about Hamilton Hill have not even been here. So this is an opportunity for people to see us at our best.”