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Circle the City street fair celebrates vitality of communities along Blue Hill Ave.

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Circle the City street fair celebrates vitality of communities along Blue Hill Ave.
Last year’s Circle in the City drew more than 6,000 people of all ages to Blue Hill Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Sustainability Guild)

On the afternoon of Sept. 28, a stretch of Blue Hill Avenue will be closed to cars and transformed into an open-air community block party for all ages, featuring live music, improvisational theater, pop-up cafes, local vendors and entrepreneurs, cooking demonstrations and civic dialogues.

Planners for this year’s Circle the City – Blue Hill Avenue event say they aim to expand on last year’s wildly successful party that attracted 90 organizations and more than 6,000 attendees.

“Last year was like the pre-party, and now it’s the real deal,” said Latifa Ziyad, who worked on the event last year as part of the Mayor’s Blue Hill Avenue Neighborhood Response Team, and has returned as a volunteer outreach coordinator for this year’s event.

“It was a perfect day. The whole street was aglow,” she continued. “I don’t call it a block party — I call it a four-hour urban utopia. That’s what we created.”

Last year’s “pre-party” was no small event. Thousands of people from the neighborhood and beyond spent the afternoon dancing and playing tennis in the street, browsing a display of historical photographs of Blue Hill Avenue in its heyday, sampling food, participating in an interfaith dialogue and even having their hair done by stylists from local salons who pulled their chairs outdoors for the event.

Ziyad said a two-year survey by a partnership of city agencies had shown that there was a desire among people in the neighborhood to get to know each other and their local businesses. Meanwhile, the neighborhood-based Sustainability Guild was working to bring green space and healthy programming to blighted, unused vacant lots along Blue Hill Avenue. When the Emerald Necklace Conservancy reached out in 2013 to the Sustainability Guild to work on Circle the City, it turned into a “perfect storm” of interest from varied community players, Ziyad said.

“I had never seen so many people play together, with such purpose, in all my years of growing up in Roxbury,” she recalled. “It was not only about having fun. It was not frivolous. It really had meaning.”

Circle the City began in 2012, part of Boston’s Open Streets Initiative that aims to draw people outdoors for healthy and fun activity on safe, car-free streets. The first year saw open-air events in several locations, including Franklin Park and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. In 2013, events took place on Blue Hill Avenue and Huntington Avenue.

While the initiative originally centered on local parks — the Emerald Necklace Conservancy is one of the lead nonprofit organizations involved — last year’s Blue Hill Avenue street festival was so successful that for 2014, ENC decided to direct all its funding from lead sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to a single festival, on Blue Hill Avenue.

“That event on Sept. 29, 2013 was the most transformational and inspiring of all the Circle the City events we had run,” said Julie Crockford, president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy. “The day was a perfect fall day, the crowds were enthusiastic and the energy was 150 percent positive. It showed us the Boston we all want to live in.”

Besides ENC and Sustainability Guild, organizations leading this year’s event are Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness, LivableStreets Alliance, Boston Cyclists Union, Nuestra Comunidad CDC, Project R.I.G.H.T. and the city’s Boston Bikes program.

New at Circle the City this year will be an innovation and technology section, a “breaking bread/food for thought” area, a new vendor marketplace, and an expanded faith-focused component.

Sustainability Guild Founder and CEO Jhana Senxian said they are seeking people to be volunteers and community ambassadors, both in advance and on the day of the event. More than anything, Senxian wants people to show up and bring friends and family. She hopes to see many artists in attendance.

“This is a about a strong, resilient, collaborative community,” she said. “We want to champion the talents and skills already in our community.”

Planning for Circle the City 2014 has been underway since last year, and the excitement is now coming to a head.

“We’ve been birthing this baby for at least nine months,” Ziyad said. “And now, we’re starting to have those aches and pains. We’re due in two weeks!”

Circle the City will be held on Blue Hill Avenue between Dudley and Warren Streets on Sunday, Sept. 28 from 1–5 pm. For more information, call 617-522-2700 or see

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