As summer approaches and grilling weather takes over, now is the time to get your neighbors together to begin planning a block party. A block party involves closing off a city block to vehicle traffic for a gathering of neighbors to celebrate a holiday or have a good time with music, games, food, and activities. These parties are not only fun; they reinforce the culture of a neighborhood by reflecting the values and assets that make it unique.
How are block parties important to neighborhoods?
‣ Build a sense of community. Block parties are an opportunity for neighbors to come together and socialize. Getting to know one another creates a sense of belonging and connection. With a wider social network, neighborhood projects go more quickly and smoothly, benefiting everyone. When people work together, they have tremendous power to make changes that influence the quality of life in their communities.
‣ Promote safety. When people know and trust their neighbors, they are more likely to look out for one another and work together to problem solve safety issues in their communities.
‣ Strengthen relationships with local government. Block parties allow residents to meet and interact with local government officials, such as police officers and city council members. This can help build trust between the community and government by bringing constituents face-to-face with their representatives.
‣ Offer fun for everyone. Block parties offer fun activities for people of all ages, including games, music, and arts and crafts, creating a festive atmosphere where everyone can participate.
Why should I plan a block party for my neighborhood?
‣ You will remove barriers to help neighbors connect and get to know each other in an informal environment. Food, drinks, music, and games encourage socialization and build bonds among people.
‣ You will help neighbors feel like they are part of something larger than themselves, which is essential for creating a strong and supportive neighborhood and encouraging participation in neighborhood associations and alliances.
‣ You will encourage reciprocity as neighbors become more likely to attend other neighborhood events, creating ongoing community-building and socialization opportunities.
How do I get started planning a block party?
1. Build a group
Ask around to get a team of several neighbors together to plan. Going the lone wolf route, especially if this is your first block party, could quickly become overwhelming as you coordinate several moving parts. You’ll need help organizing your budget, entertainment, rentals, food, and who is applying for and managing the event permit.
2. Pick a date well in advance
Plan as far in advance as you can. Two to three months in advance should allow you plenty of time to submit your permit, secure entertainment and food, and invite your neighbors. The most popular times for block parties are mid-May to August, though early fall in Nebraska is often warm enough for continued outdoor activities.
3. Get your permit
The city of Omaha requires you to get a permit before you can legally close down your block to traffic. The permit must close an entire block, but not between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. You’ll need to inform all businesses and neighbors along the closed block at least seven days before the event. Applicants must provide their own barricades once the permit has been issued. The application can be completed online at the Park Omaha website under “street use and event forms.” Additional information on rules and restrictions is available within the application form.
4. Choose your format and vendors
Block parties can take many forms, including BBQs, potlucks, or picnics. They may feature live music and performances or focus on activities for kids like chalk, bubbles, and yard games. Sometimes local businesses host tables, letting neighbors know about their services. Decide what you want to have at your party and plan accordingly. Rental companies can provide tables, chairs, tablecloths, trash cans, stages, and sound equipment. Caterers and food trucks often book well in advance, so make sure you have backup options for food if you’re going the catered route. Make a plan for set-up and tear down of the event.
Keep in mind whether children or older adults live in the neighborhood when choosing the party hours and planning the schedule. Decide whether pets are allowed.
5. Invite your neighbors
Choose several methods to get the word out to your neighborhood so they can prepare for the block party. Create an event on social media, hand out fliers, send a postcard, use the email list, and encourage folks to use word of mouth to promote the event.
6. Have your block party!
Once the details are locked in, and the vendors, food, and entertainment have been selected, it’s time to party! You could have a sign-in table to collect email addresses for future events and offer folks name tags. If you’re well-connected, consider introducing people with similar interests or who live near each other. Keep it casual, and remember to have fun!
7. Consider giving back
Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue is a local nonprofit that will come pick up excess food and distribute it to pantries, shelters, and other recipient organizations. Call them at (402) 913-6776 to arrange a pickup. It’s recommended to call them in advance to come up with a plan.
This blog was written by Noelle Blood-Anderson, One Omaha’s communications manager.