A parking lot in the Phillips West neighborhood will transform into a mini carnival Tuesday night, replacing rows of cars with a bounce house, inflatable slide and the smell of hot dogs.
“We want neighbors to get to know each other,” said Crystal Windschitl, executive director of the Minneapolis neighborhood’s council.
It’s one of 2,000 National Night Out block parties — both big and small — planned around Minneapolis and St. Paul, where record-breaking attendance is expected.
St. Paul has 60 first-time events after a year of aggressive marketing. Minneapolis registered about 100 more.
The nationwide campaign is to build relationships between neighbors as well as community-police partnerships, particularly with tensions high over police shootings.
“National Night Out is about tearing those walls down, most definitely,” said Patty Lammers, citywide coordinator for National Night Out with the St. Paul Police Department. “It’s part of bridge building and building that trust with the community.”
Over the course of the night, law enforcement of all levels will build those relationships over plates of barbecue and blaring music. First responders, City Council members and others will also make appearances at neighborhood events.
About 130 St. Paul officers will attend events ranging from a classic car show at Joseph’s Grill to jazz and folk concerts at the East Side Freedom Library. Mounds Park United Methodist Church will also roll out the blue, paw print-patterned carpet for Sgt. Fuzz, the department’s comfort dog.
Lammers said these events allow officers to meet people outside their typical interaction with the public: crimes and crises.
“We don’t always get to see people at their best,” she said.
The Minneapolis Police Department will send out about 225 officers to have face-to-face conversations across the city, said police spokesman John Elder.
Tuesday night, however, is no different from officers’ daily efforts to build community relationships, he said. Officers look forward to the large-scale celebration and its loose, fun atmosphere, he said.
Minneapolis has had the highest participation rate of cities with more than 300,000 residents almost every year since 2008, he said.
More than 67,000 people attended 1,515 events last year — encompassing every neighborhood in the city and 18 percent of its population.
St. Paul, which last year placed third among cities of its size, registered more than 400 events this year, up from 320 last year, according to Lammers. The event is overseen by National Association of Town Watch and organized by local law enforcement.
Windchitl said the event is a special opportunity to bring out the best in her community. She expects about 1,600 people to attend.
Fliers are posted in English, Somali and Spanish to attract everyone in the diverse Phillips West neighborhood to participate in games and giveaways and to visit the more than 40 information kiosks advertising local services.
The free event subsists largely on donations and will feature salsa dancers, clowns and a rap and dance contest hosted by MAD DADS.
It also helps the community feel a little safer and more like home said Ingrid Nyholm-Lange, associate director for programs and community engagement at the American Swedish Institute, which is offering its office parking lot for part of the event.
When neighbors get to know one another, they start to look out for each other and their children. Nyholm-Lange said they also start to realize they have a shared vision for the neighborhood’s struggles and shortcomings.
National Night Out offers a rare platform to discuss those issues, she said, and it’s a testament to the Twin Cities’ dedication to community that’s made the event such a hit here.
“People have a strong affinity to the fact this is their neighborhood and they’re a part of it,” she said.