Moving into a new neighborhood isn’t always a walk in the park, especially if you don’t know anybody there. But how do you get to know your neighbors in a new environment, one that’s unfamiliar to you?
One fantastic way to meet everybody is by throwing a block party. Even if it’s your first time doing something like this, if you plan in advance and organize a small posse, a block party can be a lot of fun, and people will definitely remember you when it’s all over.
How do you throw a block party that your neighbors will enjoy? Follow these steps to cover all your bases and make the party planning easy — and the party itself a rousing success.
NOT ENOUGH ROOM IN YOUR YARD? FIND A LOCATION
If you’re really only inviting the people who live on your block, and you have a big enough yard to accommodate everyone, then the location should be pretty easy to figure out — but if you can’t have the block party at your place for any reason, then start scouting out a different location. Is there a park nearby where you can meet, or will a local business with a sizable parking lot be willing to let you borrow it for a few hours one weekend?
Some municipalities will let you block off the street for the party itself if you have a permit, which can be a really nice solution for a block party in a big city. And you’ll also need a permit for a party in a park, so once you have the location decided, it’s time to start navigating the permit maze.
FIGURE OUT IF YOU NEED A PERMIT
Do you even need a permit? Well, maybe not, but it’s better to ask and find out it’s unnecessary than to assume you’ll be fine without asking and get shut down before the party even starts. Visit your local city and county office and ask the experts there whether you need a permit, what kind of permit you’ll need, how much it costs (if anything), and what’s included.
Some areas that will let you block off the street will provide signs and road blockers for you to put in place the day of the event. Others even offer freebies like drinks or a bounce castle for the kids. You won’t know if you don’t ask, though!
PICK A DATE
Before you actually secure your permit, pick a date for your block party. It’s probably smart to plan at least one month in advance, and six weeks is even better in order to get maximum turnout for your block party. Weekends are ideal, and Saturdays usually better than Sundays in terms of availability.
Some people think block parties are strictly a summertime event, but if the weather makes gathering outdoors acceptable, then there’s no reason why you can’t plan one for the spring, fall, or even winter months — which might be better than summer in a desert environment, anyway.
CONSIDER A POTLUCK FOR MAXIMUM SAVINGS
Your block party attendees are not going to expect much, but of course you’ll want to meet the expectations they do have. One of those expectations is food or at least some refreshments, and that’s probably not something you want to handle all by yourself. In those cases, a potluck is probably your best bet for managing refreshments without breaking your own personal bank.
The good news is that potlucks are pretty easy to coordinate, especially in this era of email and online documents where everyone can collaborate. When you have your list of volunteers and folks who are definitely coming to your block party, start circulating your list of what you need. Hot dogs (with buns and condiments), hamburgers (same), chips, veggie dip, soda, juice, and desserts can all be added to your potluck list; if you’ve got enough people coming, add paper plates and plastic cups, too, so you’ve got everything covered. And ask your guests to label any dishes and serving utensils they bring so that if something gets left behind, you can return it to its rightful owner.
SCAN FOR VOLUNTEERS
This is your block party, but don’t be surprised if some of your neighbors offer to help you put it together — and if they do, take them up on it! You can delegate anything you like. Perhaps one neighbor wants to handle invitations and RSVPs, while another already has a few folding tables in the garage that they’re happy to bring.
Make a list of everything you want or need to do in order to make your block party a reality. (This article can make a good jumping-off point!) When someone asks if you’d like some help with the party, tell them what jobs are available and let them decide whether they want to just bring a dish or whether one of the volunteer options will suit them, too.
SECURE ICE CREAM, BEER, OR OTHER TREATS
Is there an ice-cream truck that drives through your town on Saturdays, anyway? If so, maybe you can call up the owners or talk to the driver, tell them your plans, and see if you can arrange for the truck to pull up while the party is going on. If you’d rather pay for the ice cream yourself or ask someone to bring it, make sure you have a cooler available to keep everything frozen.
Like ice cream, beer or other alcoholic beverages can start to tip toward “expensive.” Decide if you want to have alcohol at the block party at all — after all, it might not be expected where you’re living. (Your volunteer helpers might have more insight into this if you’re not sure.) If it’s something you think you want to do, talk to the local liquor store or even a brewery (if there is one) about your options. Many offer “pony” kegs, small tappable kegs that you can fill with anything from domestic to local craft beer. Or maybe some higher-end boxed wine (yes, it does exist) will be more appealing to your neighbors. At the block party itself, ask drinkers to donate $5 or so toward the drinks so that you’re not spending too much on booze for your party, or can at least recoup some of your investment; most people will consider $5 a steal for a couple of pints of beer.
PLAN SOME KIDS’ (AND ADULT!) ACTIVITIES
You don’t need to plan anything extraordinary to entice your neighbors to come meet you and share a plate of food and a drink with you. But you still should have some activities on hand to break the ice and provide entertainment, especially for little ones whose attention spans are limited.
For kids, see if you can find a budding or established artist who’s willing to do some face-painting, or set up a table with easy, fun crafts that they can do. Bonus points if the kids can make something to wear around the block party afterward, like a paper crown or a button. Kids also love things like water slides and water guns, especially in the summertime; if that’s on the agenda, consider setting specific times when the water games will be taking place so that adults who’d rather not get soaked while they’re eating can avoid it.
In some ways, adults are even easier; get some lawn games like ladders, cornhole, or washers and set them up, and provide seating and shade so they can lounge and talk while the kids play. More adventurous block partiers might consider an activity like a karaoke machine (keep it clean!) or “body bumpers,” giant inflatable rings that adults can put on and then use for wrestling — make sure you’ve got a well-established “ring” that will keep wrestlers corralled, and a soft surface like grass if the rings only go waist high, and prepare to watch your neighbors challenge each other to a duel.
DISTRIBUTE FLIERS OR POSTCARDS WITH SAVE-THE-DATES
When you start to get your ducks in a row, it’s time to start issuing invitations. Get some fliers or postcards printed or written up and walk up and down your street, taping one to each front door — your neighbors should definitely be able to find that. Include information about how to RSVP and where to sign up for the potluck, and include some details about the treats and entertainment you’ve secured to help build some enthusiasm for your party.
You’ll want to know how many people are coming, so establish a way for your guests to tell you whether they can make it and start collecting their responses. Depending on how big your block is, this could be a pretty easy or an absolutely mind-boggling task, especially if your block is full of apartment buildings or condos, so ask for help from one of your volunteers if the RSVPs are starting to make your head swim. When you get the RSVPs, make sure that you give the attendees all the potluck and additional information, and ask them for a way to get in touch to send reminders as the day approaches.
SORT OUT FIRST AID
You might not need it at all — but as Murphy’s Law states, if you don’t plan for first aid, you will definitely need it. Usually some antiseptic ointment and some band-aids will be acceptable for your first aid needs, but if there are any volunteers who are physicians, nurses, or who have any kind of clinical medical experience, ask them what else you might want to prepare for and use their expertise to your advantage.
ENLIST PUBLIC SERVICES
Some police departments and fire departments will drop in on events like block parties, and getting to see a fire truck in person, or sit inside the front seat of a police cruiser, can be a real thrill for the kids on your block — plus, it’s a nice way for you and your neighbors to get to know some of the public service operators in your area. Stop by the police and fire departments and ask them if they have any interest in making an appearance. The worst they can say is “no,” and who knows — maybe there will be some off-duty police officers or firefighters who are interested in stopping by just to say hello and enjoy the party.
POST STREET CLOSURE SIGNS, IF APPLICABLE
When the day itself arrives, start getting ready early. As soon as you’re allowed to according to the permits, post any street closure signs and get the road blocks up so you can start preparing in earnest. Even if you’re not shutting down the entire street, a few strategically placed “Block Party! Please Drive Carefully” signs can do a lot for goodwill in your neighborhood, even if not everyone is able to attend.
SET UP TABLES
You’ll need tables for the food and drinks, plus tables for any crafts or other activities you might have planned. Get those set up as soon as you can so that anyone arriving knows where to put the food or beverages they brought. Signs on the tables aren’t strictly necessary, but they can definitely be useful, so consider using them strategically so everyone knows where the main courses, side dishes, and desserts should be placed.
The whole point of your block party is to meet your neighbors. Be a good host, but also cut yourself some slack to enjoy yourself! Ask to be introduced to anybody you aren’t sure you know, and do yourself a favor — if there is alcohol, even if everyone else is drinking, try to keep your own consumption to an absolute minimum. Of course it’s fine to have fun, but you also want to remember everyone’s name and anything you learn about them during the event. If you’re able to greet your neighbors later by name and ask after their loved ones as a result of your block party, it will all have been worth the effort (and temporary sobriety) to build these relationships.
CLEAN IT ALL UP
None of your neighbors are going to thank you for leaving a mess, even if it’s just in your backyard. Set a definite “end” time for your event and prepare to start cleaning up. If you’ve had volunteers helping, make sure you ask a handful to help with breaking down and cleaning up the party. You can start with the kids’ activities and adult entertainment, if applicable, then move to the food — wash any dishes or utensils that have been left behind so they’re clean when you return them to their owners. Break down and stash the tables, and do a final sweep to look for any stray napkins, paper plates, or other trash leftover.
Throwing a block party might seem overwhelming, but your neighbors will never forget the effort you made to get to know them. Who knows? It might even become an annual tradition that everyone takes turns hosting.