Burgers sizzling on the grill, kids conducting an impromptu parade down the street, a veteran neighbor reminiscing about when your Eisenhower-era house was built. They’re all familiar scenes from a sure sign of summer: the neighborhood block party.
But in a time of iGadgets and Twitter feeds, the first casualty is often personal interaction with those who live right next door.
“Many of us are so busy with our day-to-day lives that we don’t have a chance to meet our neighbors,” said Emily Lewis, senior neighborhood programs specialist for Henderson, Nev., who helps coordinate block parties for local residents.
Which is why the block party is more than just some nostalgic relic. It’s a social necessity.
“They help us connect and build our communities,” Lewis said.
There are the practical benefits as well, such as networking to find a trustworthy plumber or a last-minute baby sitter and, of course, someone who can lend you a cup of sugar in a pinch.
It’s also good insurance against seedier activities.
“The more you get to know your neighbors, the more you’re likely to notice any suspicious activity,” said Joy Racine, citizen adviser for Scottsdale, Ariz.
Thinking of throwing your own block party?
Check with your town first to see if it offers any guidance or resources. Each community is different, and requirements and local laws will vary.
You’ll want to talk with your neighbors to get a sense of who’s interested in attending the party and who would like to help you plan it. (The more help, the better.) Designate residents to coordinate publicity, food and refreshments, activities, permits and setup and take-down.
Once you gather your planning committee, decide on where and when you’ll have the party. Select an area that offers convenient access to guests and one that can be blocked off without too much disruption to the neighborhood.
Decide on what type of food and drink you’ll have and, more important, who will pay for them. If you’re doing a potluck, write down what everyone will bring. If you’re using caterers, make sure to order far in advance.
Get the word out about the party at least one month ahead of the date, distributing reminders to residents via snail mail or e-mail, suggested Lewis. Also make sure you invite everyone in the neighborhood (no picking and choosing) and include all the necessary info in the invitation, including RSVP and contact information.
Gathering the appropriate permits also is a must. Most areas have a specific permit for block parties and street closures. In Wichita, contact the city manager’s office at 316-268-4351. Wichita allows streets to be blocked off for up to five hours if organizers obtain permission from everyone living on the block. Residents also are required to rent regulation barricades.
Make sure you comply with all rules and get the right barricades and signs for safety.
Keeping partygoers entertained is always a challenge for planners.
In Wichita, residents may contact the city manager’s office and request a visit from a community police officer or ask the fire department to bring out a fire truck. Availability depends on staffing.
You could tap into the nostalgia of block parties with some playground-style games such as capture the flag, hopscotch and tag. Kids love to help lead these activities, which takes the pressure off the adult coordinators.
After the party
Make sure to designate a cleanup crew before the event begins, so everyone knows what to expect.
If you want feedback on the event, be sure to survey the attendants to get their thoughts, which will help make next year’s block party even better.