On the first Tuesday in August of every year, residents from across the nation gather for communal outdoor events to establish stronger relationships between communities and their police force.
This year, in recognition of National Night Out, Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods organized individual community outdoor events and Spring Garden’s, at Catalano Parklet, was particularly bumping.
From 5 to 8 p.m., Spring Garden neighbors gathered at Catalano Park for an evening of hot dogs, grilled vegetables, entertainment and community awareness. Local dance troupe Get Down Gang provided entertainment for neighbors, performing break dance routines.
“I think it brings communities together,” says Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “I think anytime in a neighborhood when you know your neighbors, it’s a healthy thing. It breaks down barriers. There are people with different religions, backgrounds, sexualities.
“These events improve quality of life. Sometimes people get to talk about what they want to do with their neighborhood. Those kinds of neighborhood solutions come up.”
Fitzgerald visited eight neighborhoods Tuesday evening, and said he recognized a commonality among the crowds: they were multigenerational. Night Out events were held at churches, community centers, parks and playgrounds. Organizers often bring in social service agencies and outreach groups to talk about public safety, drug addiction and childcare.
“The neighborhoods are safer when they’re together,” says Spring Garden block watch chair Denise Pierce. “Safer Together is the theme that the city of Pittsburgh public safety department uses, and we find with some of our blighted neighborhoods here — [that's] right where a lot of crime was going around.”
Police officers from the jurisdiction stopped by the Spring Garden parklet throughout the evening. Larry Crawford, police community relations officer, spoke to the crowd briefly, introducing himself to neighbors. There were appearances from Fitzgerald and District 1 Pittsburgh City Councilor Darlene Harris as well.
“We had everybody here. It probably scared people away,” says Raphael Walton with a laugh. Walton and Pierce co-organized Spring Garden’s Night Out event.
“The event was our most successful in terms of the entertainment,” says Pierce. “We were given a budget. We were able to pay [the performers] $200. We were never able to do that before. So in terms of this as an event, and giving multiple things, that dancing really set it apart from any of our other times. It was pretty much a nice summer night, with a little entertainment and good food.”
Wayne Younger, minister at Cityview Church, spoke at the event and praised community gatherings and his neighborhood.
“I just think it’s an important thing whenever the community is gathering, just to be a part of it and to care for neighborhood unity,” says Younger. “To basically get out with the neighbors and find out what moves them."