Organize an Outstanding Block Party

Looking for a way to finally introduce yourself to the new neighbor down the street? Are your kids begging for an all-day water balloon war? Whether looking to socialize as a family or discover new recipes, consider the time-honored tradition of a block party.

The chance to meet new neighbors — or catch up with those you haven’t seen since last fall — can build bonds within a community and create a sense of togetherness on the street. It also means adapting your favorite cole slaw recipe to feed 40 ravenous neighbors! But don’t stress about hosting a large gathering. Just follow these simple steps for a crowd-pleasing party.

1. Set a theme

Experienced party consultant Linda Amadio 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 both. Do you want to have families wear distinctive colors to make members easily identifiable? How about a beach flavor? Your theme sets the tone of the party and is the center around which the party is planned.

2. Check into city regulations

Check with your local town hall to learn if you need a permit or if there are regulations about temporarily blocking vehicle access to your street. Many municipalities will provide street barriers that can be picked up the day before or the day of the event. Others may prohibit using a grill on public property, easements, etc., so it’s always best to ask first and avoid a potential snag or fine.

3. Decide the 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 Texas block-party planner and attendee Kathy Thomas. If the party location is perceived to be too far from home, people may not attend or may not feel comfortable. It also helps to choose a house with a driveway in the front or that has a circular drive.

4. Set limits

“Let all party-goers know the house rules concerning entering houses or feeding furry guests,” Amadio urges. It also is important for all guests to know the safety rules and plans for the area. Examples of rules are no tossing trash into a fire pit or barbecue and staying out of the yards of neighbors not attending the party. Set a time limit for the party to prevent it from getting out of hand or becoming a nuisance to neighbors trying to sleep during the festivities.

5. Delegate the planning

Avoid stress and assign party-planning duties to neighbors. Ask one person to make the flyer, others to bring folding chairs, and one or two people to dedicate use of their grill. Most neighborhoods opt for each family to bring their own beverages and often ask every family to donate a set amount to offset the cost of the meat and any prizes for kids or entertainment.

6. Insure safety

The concern of accident liability may steer some away from allowing a party grill or inflatable on their property. “We have everyone sign a waiver to protect homeowners and reduce potential neighborhood tension,” says veteran block-party attendee Beth Schwebber of New York. It is also a good idea to share the party details with everyone on the street. If they aren’t home or choose not to attend the block party, they can take precautions to not park vehicles on the street or leave potentially hazardous items, such as baby pools or tools, in the yard.

7. Plan activities

Bicycle decorating contests, searching for hidden prizes in a pile of straw and water balloon tosses are just a few activities that keep younger attendees entertained. “You can never have too many activities waiting in the wings,” Amadio notes. Encourage kids to bring their bikes, skateboards, scooters or inline skates and remind them to use protective safety gear.

8. Bring in the action

Consider asking the local police or fire department if it’s possible for them to stop by the party with some equipment to show 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.

9. Remember adult activities

Kids aren’t the only ones who rely on games to break the ice. Plan a few activities to introduce residents at one end of the block to their counterparts on the other end. Even silly games such egg tosses start the party off with a festive bang. “We set up volleyball nets at a few different houses that are close to the food,” Thomas explains.

10. Feed the masses

Ask guests to bring a favorite snack or side dish to share to ensure the party has lots of tasty treats. Assign categories such as salads, veggies and desserts to be sure you don’t have too many potato chips and not enough dip!

Gina Roberts-Grey frequently writes about family, parenting, health, senior and women’s issues for national and regional publications.