Block Party Ideas
Block parties are almost always held al fresco, so decorations are usually minimal. However, if your budget allows for it, helium balloons from everyone's mailbox or in the main party area adds a celebratory note to the day.
More importantly, consider the layout of the party. Plan defined areas for particular activities, like sports games and contests. Giving guests lots of things to do rather than just expecting them to go up and talk to strangers makes it easier for them to mingle with others they don't know. To further encourage interaction, set up just a few long tables in the eating area. Not everyone will be eating at once, but limited space means people who have never met will have to sit next to each other — and likely get to know (and quite possibly love) thy neighbor.
Set up a registration booth at the entrance to the festivities so you can hand out name tags, collect donations to offset the cost of the shindig and provide a sign-in sheet for contact info. After the party, email everyone a neighborhood directory to help keep connections going.
Start planning the party a few months in advance so guests get plenty of notice to plan to attend and you have enough time for all the preparation. Here's how to make it all happen:
- Form a planning committee of neighbors you already know, or distribute flyers
around your block asking interested parties to come to an organizational
- At that meeting, decide on a date and time for the event and discuss details. What activities will you have? What food will be served? How will you pay for the party? What's your rain plan? Where will the event be held? Many neighborhoods apply for a permit to block off the street for their parties, but you'll probably need to distribute a petition to everyone on the block and get a majority to sign it before your application will be accepted. If this is your neighborhood's first block party and you're not sure how chock-a-block it'll be, you may want to simply host it in your own yard instead.
- Ask for volunteers to head up various tasks, like coordinating food, permits, activities, cleanup, etc.
- Finally, decide on a budget. Some neighborhoods collect door-to-door donations, while others ask for a small, suggested donation at the registration table at the event. Either way, consider how much you're willing to cover if you come up short and what you'll do with the money if you get extra. If money is a concern but you want to go all out, consider holding your party on National Night Out, the first Tuesday in August. Many areas waive permit fees for street closures and amplified music on that date.
- Find out your local ordinances for block parties by contacting your local township office or public works department. If you decide you want to close off your street, you'll need a permit and barricades. You may also need special events insurance. Be sure to also ask about the policy regarding amplified music and alcohol.
- If you want to have a fire engine make a visit to your block party (in which case you'll also need to apply to close off the street), call your local fire department well in advance. Plan to invite someone from the fire or police department or a local politician to speak at the event? Ask early.
- Send an Evite invitation at least a month in advance that includes the
- The date, time and place for the event
- The reasons you're having the party: to offer a sense of community, an opportunity to meet your neighbors and a safer place to live — after all, people who know each other look out for each other
- What activities you have planned (for example, a talent show, kids' parade, etc.) and how to get involved
- What guests need to bring: potluck items (for example, meat or veggies to barbecue for themselves; beverages for themselves; and a salad, side dish or dessert) and chairs for themselves
- Whether they have anything you need that they'd be willing to lend for the event (for example, folding tables, coolers, trash cans or grills)
- Whether they'd be willing to help out, and if so, who to contact
- What the suggested donation will be to cover the expenses of the party and how it will be collected
- Send a reminder one to two weeks in advance of the party. You may also want to post signs around the neighborhood the week of the event, particularly if you're planning to close off the street so your neighbors remember to move their cars.
- Enjoy the party!
Enjoying the beautiful weather and the company of friends is what barbecues are all about. However, a few fun activities for guests of all ages can certainly liven things up. Here are some ideas that will keep your company entertained and make your BBQ a memorable event:
Fun for Everyone
- Host a talent show, using someone's porch as a stage. If you plan to include amplified music, check with your township or public works office, since you may need a permit for that even if it's on private property.
- Rent a karaoke machine.
- Set up a treasure hunt.
- Play volleyball, kickball or street hockey (if your street will be closed).
- Designate an area for playing cards or chess.
- Host a limbo or dance contest.
- Have a pet parade.
Fun for Kids
- Have a bubblegum bubble-blowing contest or sidewalk chalk drawing contest.
- Hang a piñata.
- Ask a few teens or adults to take turns painting faces.
- Get a three-legged race or tug of war going.
- Have a water balloon toss.
- Rent a jump house.
- Play hide-and-seek.
- If your street will be closed, ask your local fire department (at least two months in advance) to send out a fire engine and a couple of firefighters to give a demonstration and let kids check out the truck.
Neighborhood Pride & Education
- Find out who's lived in your neighborhood the longest and ask them to speak for a few minutes about it.
- Ask everyone to include where they're originally from in their RSVP comment, then display a map with names pinned to their hometowns at the party.
- Research your neighborhood's history at the library and create a display board including old photos and interesting facts.
- Plant trees, flowers or a garden, or clean up your block as part of the party.
- Invite your local police, fire or another city department to provide handouts and make a brief presentation on home safety, for example.
Block parties are often nothing more than big barbecues. You can take up donations and provide the main course or ask families to bring their own meat or other grillables. Usually, side dishes, salads and desserts are potluck. You might even award prizes to the best entry in each category to encourage guests to come bearing their best dishes.
You could also skip the grill and host an old-fashioned ice cream social or a potluck including main dishes, especially if your party is around the holidays when the weather won't be barbecue-friendly.
One final option: Try soliciting food donations from local restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries, butchers, etc., who may welcome the cheap advertising.
Is there any beverage that says block party better than lemonade? You could even invite neighborhood kids to make a few batches and set up a homemade lemonade stand.
Alternatively, you can add drinks to the potluck list or ask neighbors to bring their own beverages. Just keep in mind that although alcoholic beverages are okay on private property, they're prohibited in public areas like on the street or in parks.
Lemonade (6 servings, multiply as necessary — just make sure you have enough pitchers)
- 8 lemons
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 5 cups water
Juice the lemons. Combine the sugar and 1 1/2 cups water in a saucepan and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Cool. Add lemon juice and 5 cups water. Serve over ice.