How to Organize a Neighborhood Block Party
Remember when everyone knew their neighbors? Kids played hopscotch on the sidewalk and rode bikes every evening while parents sat on the front porch conversing with friends and sipping iced tea. It was normal to knock on your neighbor's door and ask to borrow a cup of sugar. Neighborhoods today seem to have lost that sense of community. Families huddle inside their houses, afraid to learn who lives next door. If you want your community to adopt a spirit of change, take action! Start a tradition in your neighborhood by planning a block party. Neighborhood block parties are a fun way to meet neighbors, build friendships, and develop a sense of belonging and security among residents.
The first step in planning a block party is to choose a date and location. Get together with a few neighbor friends and find out what date works best for everyone. This way you're guaranteed to have at least a few families in attendance. Most block parties are held in the afternoon to evening. Don't plan the event for a holiday weekend, since most people will already have other commitments. Also, take weather into consideration. If you live in an area where it often rains in the evening, plan a lunchtime get together. Depending on where you live, spring and fall are ideal months for outdoor block parties. Plan the party far enough in advance so people can put it on their calendars and you have enough time to organize it all. If there are other people willing to help with the planning, welcome them with open arms.
Just because you don't have a "block" doesn't mean you can't have a block party. A block party is really just a gathering of neighbors. If you live in an apartment complex, town home complex, or high rise condo, a block party is still a great way to meet and fellowship with your neighbors. Plan to have the event at a local park or in the parking lot of your building.
Choose a location that will accommodate a large number of people. You will have chairs, grills, coolers, tables, and more, so make sure to find a space that is large enough. When I organized a block party for my street last spring, I made sure to choose a site that would be shaded during our afternoon party. After choosing a grassy common area in our neighborhood, I kept track of when the sprinklers came on to make sure we didn't schedule the party just in time for a shower.
Also, find a setting where kids will have lots of room to play. If your community has a park with a playground, plan to have the event there. The kids will be able to play while the adults are socializing close by. Having the party in a cul-de-sac is also a nice option. Make sure the location is accessible to all people invited, and don't block off driveways or traffic on through streets. If you plan on putting up any barricades in the street, you might need a permit from the city, depending on where you live.
The cost of a block party varies. Block parties can be thrown with no cost at all if everyone pitches in. An elaborate party with caterers, musicians, inflatable water slides, and helium balloons will be pretty pricey. If you plan on throwing a larger-than-life bash, make sure there is a money source. If you live in a community with a Homeowner's Association, there may be a dollar amount earmarked for this type of event each year.
Also check with the city. In the town where I live, there is a block party trailer that can be used for free by any resident planning a neighborhood party. The trailer is filled with chairs, tables, sports equipment, an outdoor PA system, canopies, and more. It also comes with a $75 giftcard for a local grocery store to help with the cost of food. All of this is free through the city if you plan ahead and reserve the trailer in advance.
If HOA or city assistance is not available, survey the neighborhood and ask if each household would be willing to chip in $10 towards the party. As the planner, make sure money is available before hiring entertainment and purchasing supplies. Without proper planning, you could end up footing the bill in the end. That being said, there are easy ways to keep costs down and still have a great time. I'm all about saving money, so the rest of this article will focus on planning an inexpensive but fabulous block party.
First decide who will be invited. In small neighborhoods, every resident should be included. However, if you live in a neighborhood like mine, there are over three hundred houses. Such a large number of people could get expensive and overwhelming. The first time I planned a block party, I invited only people living on our particular street. The turnout was small, but we still had a great time. Next time I will invite families from four or five streets surrounding ours, in hopes that the turn out will be better. It can be difficult to decide where to draw the lines for invitations. No one wants to feel left out, so do your best to include as many neighbors as possible.
Make an attractive flyer and deliver one to each home on your block about one month in advance. I like to make colorful flyers that are eyecatching and fun. Print the flyers on your home computer. Include the date, time, and location of the party, a contact person for RSVPs, and a list of things to bring. What should people bring? For our community's recent block party, I suggested bringing the following: lawn chairs or a blanket to sit on, drinks, plates and utensils, meat to grill, and a side dish or dessert to share. Make sure this is incorporated into your flyer.
Although it may be time consuming, the best way to deliver these flyers is door to door. When I say door to door, I mean walking up to your neighbor's front door, knocking, and cheerfully speaking with the person who answers. All of the people who attended my community's party were those whom I spoke with face to face about the event. Inviting someone in person is much more personal and effective than just sticking a flyer on their front door and walking away. If the whole community is invited to the event, post a flyer at the community pool, mailboxes, or park in addition to the hand delivered flyers. Post a sign at each entrance to your community too. Posting flyers in community areas will remind residents that the event is coming up soon.
You can't have a terrific party without delicious food. The cheapest and easiest way to organize food for a neighborhood block party is to have a potluck. Potluck meals are usually jam-packed with fabulous dishes because people prepare their all-time favorite recipes. Casseroles, salads, breads, and desserts are among the most popular potluck cuisine. There will most likely be children at the party, so make sure there are plenty of kid friendly food options. When people RSVP, ask them what potluck dish they plan to share. As the organizer, keep a list of what people are bringing to make sure you don't end up with eight pasta salads and no cookies. As stated on the invitation, families will bring their own drinks and meat for the grill. A potluck meal simplifies the food planning duties of the organizer.
Most of the planned activities at the party will be centered on keeping the kids happy and entertained. Red rover, capture the flag, potato sack races, and tag are all fun outdoor activities that require minimal equipment and set up. For very young children, duck duck goose and red light green light are fun and age appropriate. If you'd like help with kids' activities, ask each family to bring something fun for the kids to do during the party. Sidewalk chalk, frisbees, kites, balls, water balloons, inflatable swimming pools, sprinklers, and slip n' slides are all tons of fun. If you plan for water activities, check for a water source nearby before the day of the party. Most importantly, make sure the kids are always supervised around water.
While the kids are playing games, the adults can mingle, eat, and get to know each other. Name tags might be helpful in a large group of newly acquainted neighbors. It's fun to have music in the background, so delegate someone ahead of time to set up a stereo. There are lots of games adults can enjoy with the kids. Bobbing for apples, water balloon tosses, and watermelon seed spitting contests are lots of fun for all ages.
Some neighbors may have talents they can contribute to the activities, such as musicians or jugglers. Ask if they will perform at the event. Other people might be able to contribute different services. If the guy next door owns a party rental business, ask him to set up one of his inflatable play structures free of charge. Another neighbor might know how to make balloon animals. Ask her to perform a short demonstration for the kids. There are hundreds of games, sports, and other activities that would be entertaining at a block party. Choose some that will be a big hit with everyone.
The day of the party
With organized planning, the only sizeable tasks on party day will be setting up and cleaning up. When the big day arrives, recruit some older kids to set up tables, barbecues, coolers, and chairs about an hour ahead of time. As people start to arrive, introduce yourself and offer a name tag to each person. Place potluck dishes on tables. Direct the kids to the play area. Don't forget to be flexible if things don't go exactly as planned. Remember that the main reason for the get together is to relax and get to know one another. So sit back and enjoy yourself. Soak up the sense of community that is building. Watch the kids play as the adults talk, laugh, and sip iced tea like the good old days.