How well do you know your neighbors? If you’re like too many of us, your contact is limited to driveway waves and the occasional Girl Scout cookie sale. The days of chatting over fences seem long gone, and borrowing a cup of sugar can feel forward, especially when we can just hop into the car and drive to the store.
But knowing the neighbors is good for families; it creates a sense of community that can lead to a safer environment. Wouldn’t it be nice to know your neighbors are looking out for your kids? That they’re keeping an eye out for strangers? And wouldn’t it be good to know your kids feel comfortable turning to a neighbor for help?
A neighborhood block party is a great way to get to know your neighbors. National Night Out (Aug. 1, 2023) is an obvious excuse to plan one, but really any excuse will work.
Here’s how to get started.
If you are hoping to make your party a recurring event, or want to close the street, consider teaming up with at least one other family and start planning. Choose one person to check on permits and legal requirements and be responsible for invitations. Another person can be put in charge of food and beverages, and a third should be in charge of games. If you’ve got a fourth organizer, put him in charge of the clean-up committee.
Choose a date for your party. You can survey the neighbors to find out when everyone will be in town. Decide how to handle refreshments: Will you assign dishes or allow for a free-for-all potluck? Or will you ask each family to chip in to a fund, and let your food committee buy the food and beverages? If you want to serve alcoholic beverages, a special permit may be required; check with your city.
Send out the invitations. Figure out what equipment you’ll need (barricades, tables, tents, sound system, etc.) and where you’ll get it. You can ask neighbors to bring their own lawn chairs. Think about what decorations you’ll want, if any (balloons, signs, etc.). Plan to keep perishable food cold with big ice chests and beverages chilled in tubs full of ice. You might want a bullhorn if you’re planning on organized games. And don’t underestimate the power of name tags!
Hang up posters throughout the neighborhood to publicize the party. Have another meeting with your planning committee to finalize plans for refreshments, equipment and activities. Make sure your permits and insurance are in order. Put in your order for sun!
Make your party eco-friendly!
We asked local green-living experts Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson for planet-friendly tips for your party. Here are their suggestions:
- Ask each family to bring their own set of reusable plates, cutlery and cups.
- Be sure to set up clearly marked bins for landfill (trash), recycle and compost.
- Don’t waste money (or the environment) on bottled water (which can cost up to 1900 times more than tap and may not be any cleaner). Instead, have out pitchers of filtered tap water.
- Encourage families to bring local, organic, seasonal or homegrown foods.
- If you have beer, have a keg instead of individual bottles. If possible, choose local/organic brew.
- Seems obvious, but be sure to clean up well after the event. Give kids a prize for each unit of trash they pick up, or have a band play some fun music while everyone cleans up together. Even the smallest wrappers should be picked up so they don’t go down storm drains and into our local waters.
- All food scraps and waste should be composted. In many areas of the Puget Sound, recycling food is easy. Just toss into the yard waste-bin. If you don’t have curbside composting, ask neighbors if anyone is backyard composting and whether or not they would be willing to take food scraps home.
- In the invite/announcement, invite neighbors to have empty food containers with them so leftover food can be divided up and taken home so that it doesn’t have to be tossed.
Fun block-party activities
- Face painting: Hire a professional or enlist the talents of neighborhood teenagers.
- Parade: Have kids decorate their bikes, wagons and pets and have a mini-parade. Have a contest with prizes for most original, cutest, and funniest entry.
- Contests: Consider a bake-off, pie eating or dance contest.
- Games: Three-legged and potato-sack races are popular for a reason — they’re fun! Get a sound system of some kind and have a freeze-dance game. Or plan a sidewalk chalk art festival, scavenger hunt, clothespin tag, obstacle course and more.
This article was originally published several years ago and updated most recently in 2023.