Do you ever look down your street and wonder who lives in all those houses? Often times these days, we feel disconnected from our own neighbors, as more and more people spend time working outside the home and kids spend more time in organized activities. But neighborhood connections can be some of the best, longest lasting connections, allowing you to forge friendships with all types of people within walking distance of your own front door. One of the easiest ways to get to know your neighbors is to host a neighborhood block party.
A few years back I organized one on my street at the urging of another neighbor, who nominated me by the fact that I was always out on the sidewalk, playing with my kids. At first I was hesitant that it would be a lot of work and I put it off for a year or two, but then once I got the ball rolling, I realized that it was so easy, and it turned out to be one of our favorite events of the year. We met new friends, our kids spent the whole day running around in the streets (safely blocked off) and we all stayed out past dark to play ghosts in the graveyard. So, if you are ready to plan your own neighborhood block party, let me outline some simple steps that you can follow to ensure a successful event.
Planning a Block Party
Pick a Date
The most successful dates for block parties tend to be in the early summer (late May or early June) or late summer (end of August or early September), as so many people travel during the middle of summer. So choosing a date near the start or end of a school year often works better. Our first year, I just chose a date with a small group of neighbors, but as our event has grown and the neighbors have become better friends, our street established its own Facebook group. That way, the block party organizer can send out a few possible dates, and pick one based on the largest group availability.
Once a date has been set, the next step is to contact your local municipality and find out the guidelines for hosting a block party. In Vernon Hills, where I have hosted block parties, you can download block party applications directly from the police department website. In order to get permission by the Vernon Hills Police Department to close our street for a block party, I was required to obtain signatures of 75% of the homeowners on the street. Each municipality may have different rules and guidelines, so I suggest calling your village hall directly and asking them for directions. Of course, if you don’t want to close off the street, you can always host the party in your yard, but I find that the added safety and space provided by having the whole street closed really enhances the party, and shares in the responsibility of all the neighbors in hosting duties.
My kids and I set out about 3-4 weeks before our party door to door, introduced ourselves to all the neighbors we didn’t know, and easily obtained the signatures. It was also a great way to let neighbors know about the upcoming party. In Vernon Hills, once I had the required signatures, I just dropped the application to the police department. The police department notifies the public works department of the block party dates, and they actually dropped barricades off at my house the day before so we could put them up at party time. Even better, they came and picked them up the Sunday after the party. It really couldn’t have been easier, and I was so impressed with how well Vernon Hills actually encourages and supports neighborhood block parties. I can’t guarantee that all other municipalities will have those services, but it’s definitely worth a call to check it out.
Entertainment and Activities
For the most part, block parties require very little added entertainment. In Vernon Hills, the police department will automatically schedule a police visit to your block party as soon as you submit your application. I also always call the local fire department about a week or two before the event, and they are happy to bring a fire truck and ambulance out for the kids to explore. Of course, if either department becomes busy with emergencies, they may not show up, but they always do their best to come out and educate the community. One particularly hot party day, the fire department even opened the hydrant for a bit and let the kids play in the water. That is one of those highlights that my kids still talk about years later.
Another visitor who is always welcome to any block party is the ice cream truck. If you have one that visits parks or your neighborhood, chances are that they would gladly swing by your block party. I recommend that you just talk to the truck operator next time you see the truck, and see if they would visit your block party. There is one in our area that we always call, Rocky. With Rocky, there is no charge for him to come by the party; he will just come knowing that there is a good chance for lots of young (and not so young) customers. Bounce houses can be a nice touch if you have lots of young kids, but they do require supervision, and can be expensive to rent. Sometimes you can find a neighbor who has a small one which they will lend out, and you can avoid the cost and liability of a big bounce house. For the most part, kids are happy with their bikes, scooters, balls, chalk, bubbles and hula hoops.
Potluck meals work great for block parties. In the online age, you can actually send out a sign up genius or group email to let everyone sign up for one or two food items they will bring. In addition to the food, make sure you have tables, utensils and paper goods. If it’s going to be a cook out, you can indicate if it’s bring your own meat, or if you would like everyone to pitch in a few dollars to the bulk purchase of burgers and hot dogs (along with buns, condiments, etc.). Finally, I highly recommend finding one or two volunteers to be the “grillmasters.” For a big block party, the grillmasters will be spending a significant amount of time behind the grill, so make sure you find some willing volunteers who enjoy grilling.
Plan for the Weather
Undoubtedly, the biggest issue that I always run into when planning a block party is the weather. There is no guaranteeing weather in Lake County, and forecasts can change on a dime. We have had parties that start at 3:00 p.m., and it was pouring until 2:45 p.m., then the clouds cleared and an amazing night emerged. We have also had parties that started out sunny, and ended up rained out by 6:00 p.m. It’s always a good idea to plan the party with a rain out date in mind, in case the weather absolutely won’t allow for a party. And having indoor garages or houses that can host people in the event of light sprinkles is very helpful too. But the risk of bad weather is not something that should prevent you from hosting a party.
Most of all, just remember that this is all for fun. Once the date is set and the supplies are purchased, don’t stress out. Block parties are the best because it’s a day to relax and socialize with neighbors. Let the children run around and explore the neighborhood with kids of all ages. Meet new friends, enjoy good food and drink, set up some chairs and just enjoy your neighborhood. The whole goal is to bring people together, have fun and to build your community.
Have you planned a neighborhood block party? What is your best planning tip?