Unite Your Neighborhood with a Block Party!

Block parties are made for the great outdoors. Here are some tips for making these as smooth—and as fun!—as possible.

By Maureen Costello


Sack RacesLate summer for Maria Tinglof brings warmhearted memories of neck-and-neck sack races, plump hotdogs grilled on a neighbor’s barbecue and a glorious day set aside for nothing but hours of fun with the neighbors.

“We had great block parties,” recalls Tinglof, 40, now the mother of two young sons. “We’d block off the street, have races with the other kids in the neighborhood. There’d be grills set up in people’s yards with hamburgers and hotdogs. It was a blast.”

Today’s neighborhoods aren’t as naturally close-knit as the ones of Tinglof’s youth. More families have both parents in the workforce, children are busy with after-school and weekend activities, and people are just busier and less available to their neighbors than in the past.

But the tradition of neighborhood block parties still lives on, albeit the product of legwork by some enthusiastic neighbors who really want to get to know each other better and build a greater sense of community. If the idea of organizing a block party appeals to you, here are some tips to making it a success. Remember, you can’t do this all on your own. Recruit your neighbors – you’ll be surprised at how willing some might be to start this long-beloved tradition anew:

The Invite List
Jazz up your party by inviting a friendly mix of interesting guests. Here are some ideas to get you started.

• Be sure that everyone in the neighborhood knows about the party.
Draw up flyers indicating the time and date, and a contact name and number. Distribute the flyers door-to-door at least two months in advance, asking for help with food, games and other equipment.

• Consider having the party on a weekend either right before school ends or right after it begins.
This will ensure attendance, as most families stay around during the school year.

• Require RSVPs
so that you know how much food to purchase. You may require a $5 fee per person (with a $20 cap for a family) to cover food, beverages and any permit fees.

• Limit the party time to about four or five daylight hours.
This doesn’t mean the party has to be over at a set time. Very often, many neighbors will find the night “still young” and gather in smaller, quieter groups and socialize into the wee hours of the morning.

• Get a permit.
Most communities require a municipal permit to hold a block party. There may be a small fee to obtain a permit. On the day of the party, residents are usually required to block off their street with sawhorses or traffic cones that can easily be removed if emergency vehicles need access. Local government officials often request that the neighborhood also be considerate of other residents by keeping the noise level of the party tolerable.

• Limit alcoholic beverages.
A block party is geared to all ages, and food and beverages should reflect that. Even if inadvertently abused, problems relating to misuse of alcohol can turn a wonderful time into a headache or, even worse, a legal nightmare. If you are serving alcohol, appoint someone to assure that no minors are indulging. You must also be sure that no one drives after drinking too much.

• Have an activity for everyone.
Many traditional games still appeal to a wide age range. Consider having sack races, three-legged races, Wiffle® ball games, freeze dance, sprinkler games, water-balloon tosses, chalk sidewalk art displays, and horse shoes or bocce contests. Some older guests may enjoy just watching everyone have a good time.


Home-Grown and Beyond

Block parties don’t have to be limited to grilled food, sack races and lawn chairs. Try soliciting prizes, such as gift baskets and sporting equipment, from local businesses or your neighbors’ employers, to be raffled off. Money earned from games and raffles with small entry fees (a buck or two) can be used to rent or purchase other entertaining items for the next year’s party. You might even consider pooling your resources to rent special equipment (such as a bounce house) or hire a magician, clown or disc jockey.

Maureen Costello is a freelance writer.