Looking for a way to finally introduce yourself to the new neighbor down the street? Are your kids begging you to host an all-day water balloon war? Whether wanting to swap recipes or socialize with the neighbors, block parties are time-honored traditions in neighborhoods all across the country.
A block party gives you the chance to meet new neighbors or catch up with those you haven’t seen around for awhile, and can help build bonds within a community and create a homey feel throughout the whole neighborhood. (It can also mean you have to adapt your fabulous baked beans recipe to feed 40 ravenous neighbors!)
1. Set a theme
Linda Amadio, an experienced party consultant and owner of Imagine it Kidz in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, says “Setting a theme gives direction to the event and aids in planning the party.” Determine whether you want to have a day or evening block party, or one that spans across both. Do you want to have families wear distinctive colors to make members easily identifiable or feature a beach flair? Your theme can set the tone of the party, and then the remainder of the planning will center around that.
2. Location, location, location
“The best place to have a block party is at a house in the middle of the block. The party can really change depending if it is at one end of the block or the other,” says seasoned block party planner and attendee, Kathy Thomas of Dallas, Texas. If the party location is perceived to be too far from home, people may not attend or might feel they’re not comfortable at the opposite end of the street.
It is also helpful to choose a house with a driveway in the front or one that has a circular drive to make it easier to watch the grill and restock ice.
3. What is allowed?
Check with your local city or town hall to learn if you need a permit, and/or to ask about the regulations with regard to blocking off access to your street. Many municipalities will provide barriers for the street that can be picked up the day before or of the party. Others may prohibit the use of a grill on public property, easements, etc., so it’s always best to ask first and avoid a potential snag or fine.
4. Set limits
It’s important for all guests to know the safety rules and plans for the area. Not tossing trash into a fire pit or barbeque or staying out of the yards of neighbors not attending the party ensures everyone enjoys the block bash.
“Let all partygoers know the house rules concerning entering houses or feeding furry guests,” urges Amadio — which means you will need to draft some guidelines in the first place. For instance, you might want to give people a huge red ribbon to put on their door or back gate if their house/yard is “open.” Generally, pets should not be allowed at the party unless they’re small enough to be held — and are held the whole time.
You will also want to set a time limit for the party to prevent the block party from getting out of hand or from becoming a nuisance to neighbors trying to sleep or otherwise ignore the festivities.
5. Delegate duties
Avoid stress and assign party planning duties to the neighbors. Ask one person to make the invitation flyer, others to bring yard chairs and folding tables, someone to manage the store run, and one or two people to dedicate use of their grill.
Many neighborhoods opt for each family to bring their own beverages (although some will provide soft drinks) and often ask every family to donate a set amount to offset the cost of the meat, prizes for the kiddies and entertainment.
6. Ensuring safety
The concern of accident liability has many steering clear of allowing the BBQ grill or bounce house on their property. How to handle this worry? “We have everyone sign a waiver to protect homeowners and reduce potential neighborhood tension,” says veteran block party-goer Beth Schwebber of Newark, New York.
And even if everyone’s signed the waiver and you have homeowner’s insurance, still take the time to minimize any tripping hazards (loose stepping stones, uneven pavement, hoses or sprinklers in the way) and ensure any dogs and/or other pets are safely out of the wayif there is any tendency whatsoever to bite or scare people.
It is also a good idea to inform everyone on the street of the details of the party — regardless of whether or not they’re coming to the gala. In the event they’re not going to be home or attending, they can take precautions to not park vehicles on the street or leave out any potentially hazardous items — such as tools, garden equipment or baby pools — in the yard.
7. Cleanup – before, during, after
Before the party, make sure each of the residents in the party area checks their front yard for any trash, doggie debris and even things like dead birds and anthills.
You will want to be sure that you station trash and recycling bins throughout the area where you’re holding the block party — and also make certain that at least a few people will stay after the event to help clean up whatever’s left behind.
8. Fun activities
Bicycle decorating contests, searching for candy hidden in a pile of straw and water balloon tosses are just a few activities that will keep younger party goers entertained. “You can never have too many activities waiting in the wings,” says Amadio. Encourage the kids to bring their bikes, skateboards, scooters or roller blades — but don’t forget to also encourage the use of protective safety gear.
Kids aren’t the only ones who rely on games to break the ice. Plan a few activities geared at introducing those at one end of the block to their counterparts on the other end. (Get some party game ideas right here.) Even silly games such “egg toss” can help start the party off with a festive bang. “We set up volleyball nets at a few different houses that are close to the food,” suggests Thomas, the mother of three.
9. Lights and sirens
Ask local police or fire department if they would stop by the party to conduct a mini hands-on seminar for the kids. The chance to honk the horns, hold a fire hose or talk over the loudspeaker will create fond memories as well as give children a chance to brush up on safety tips.
10. Feeding the masses
Ask guests to bring a favorite snack or side dish to share and ensure the party has a wealth of tasty treats. Assigning people to handle specific categories — such as fruit salads, veggie crudites, other appetizers, side dishes, fruity desserts, chocolate desserts — will make sure you don’t have too many potato chips and not enough dip, or four apple pies and no brownies! (Need some ideas? Pick up some party perfect recipes right here.)
Get more block party ideas in these books:
- The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking & Entertaining – By Cheryl & Bill Jamison
- Peace, Love and Bar-be-cue – By Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe