One of the quintessential practices in urban row house living is to throw a block party. There are as many ways to throw a block party as there are blocks. This article touches on the basics and benefits.
In any urban area, a strong community is important and a strong community begins with great neighbors. A block party is probably the most fun way to get to know your neighbors. Often, the party is a perfect ice breaker and once you chat a little bit with your neighbors, over tasty treats and a beverage or two, you’ll find that it’s easier to be neighborly because you become more familiar with each other.
The idea of organizing a party for an entire city block might seem daunting but block parties are casual. Most of the time you can keep it very simple and certainly, if you are throwing the party for the first time, you may very well want to stick to the very basics which include neighbors, food, music, and beverages.
Getting Neighbors on Board
In order to make sure enough people on your block actually want a party, someone will have to knock on doors or make phone calls. Usually the person who is willing to talk to the neighbors, is probably best suited to be the party organizer. However, if the block is fairly big, a few people might be best to cover more area.
The process for choosing block party particulars should be democratic but it helps to have one person, or a small group, be the facilitator. Good communication is really key to a successful block party and it helps if residents can easily contact a point person.
Communicating With The Neighbors
Usually it’s hard to get all the neighbors to come out and chat together. Ways of communication with all the neighbors at once include collecting email addresses and using emails to send out memos about party updates, or doing things the old fashioned way and dropping notes into everyone’s mailbox, requesting for replies and sharing what information has been gathered previously. The nice thing about email and memos is that people can answer at their leisure, as opposed to using the phone.
A great way to keep things democratic is to utilize questionnaires. With a lot of neighbors’ opinions to coordinate, questionnaires can help keep issues organized. Responses can be tabulated which ensures decisions will suit the most people. Don’t be afraid to send out multiple questionnaires. Keeping them short makes it easy for people to respond in a timely manner. Definitely make sure that any time sensitive inquiries, like those relating to contractual items like hiring entertainment or a caterer, are clearly noted with a deadline for submitting responses. Finally, make sure people have enough time to respond.
Start the Ball Rolling
Typically it takes a few months to plan a block party. The more elaborate the party, the more time is needed for planning. A good rule of thumb is to start planning the party at least three months prior to the event. Some of the first things needed are to figure out a date by polling the residents and establishing the planners.
The street needs to be closed to traffic for the party. Most cities have a form available for download on their web sites. A majority of the residents have to sign the permit application. Even if neighbors aren’t going to attend the party, they can still sign the permit application. It’s best to collect the signatures well in advance of the deadline for submitting the application, starting even before a date has been picked. Most cities want the application submitted about a month in advance. Before the application is submitted, the date and any contractual decisions, like DJ or caterer, should be finalized. It’s much easier to postpone the date than to change contracts, especially with non-refundable deposits.
Food and Beverage
There is no party without food and beverage so these are two of the most important things to decide on, after the day of course. The good news is that almost any way of feeding people goes. Some blocks leave it to each family to set up camp in front of their own houses and feed themselves. Most of the time people make enough to share and there is random grazing from one house to the other that occurs. Another option is to organize a pot luck and have everyone sit together. For a more elaborate party, the block may coordinate finances and hire professional caterers. Most block parties are BYOB, however a more structured event might have communal beverage distribution, such as a keg.
Music and Entertainment
Having some music on in a nice touch for any block party. Depending on the size of the party, sometimes all that’s needed is someone’s stereo speakers turned outwards or a small boom box. Otherwise most DJs have packages for block parties. Double check with rules about noise levels to avoid complaints to the police.
If there are a lot of children on the block, chances are they’ll be ok with the novel idea of running around in the street without have to worry about being run over. Parents can chip in for budget-friendly art projects and volunteer for story time. Artistic neighbors might want to consider putting on a talent show or face painting. Otherwise any type of children’s entertainer suitable for birthday parties, will also be fun for a block party.
The Home Stretch
As the date approaches, the organizer should hold a block meeting to make sure all the residents are ok with the agenda and have a chance to voice any last minute concerns. If the party is more complex, the organizer might want to have additional meetings. By this time, residents should also be aware of what tasks they’ll be responsible for on the day of the party, such as clean up.
On the day of the party, close the block off as soon as possible. Sometimes the city will provide horses to block the street. However, using a row of garbage cans with a streamer between works well too. Depending on the street and city regulations, sometimes you can park a car in the street to block access. Once the street is blocked off, thoroughly sweep. After that it’s just a matter of setting up places for the entertainment and food and having a good time.
After the party, remember to clean the block. The organizer will have to be vigilant about forming a clean up committee or they might get stuck cleaning the entire block on their own. Usually, most of the neighbors readily help out and it’s not a problem.
Originally posted May 2008.