By Kim Robson
It wasn’t until I moved out to the country that I really got to know most of my neighbors. In a rural setting, where people are in remote locations from each other and the city, neighbors tend to know each other and help each other out. In the city, I would know — at best — maybe one of my neighbors, and then only on a “hi and wave” basis. That’s really sad. By proximity alone, you already have a ton of things in common with your neighbors. You share a community; its government; its utilities and resources; and its markets, schools and libraries.
So here’s a perfect way to get to know your neighbors all at once and have a blast as well: host a neighborhood block party. Once you find out how much fun it is, you’ll want to do it every few weeks, especially in the summer. Fostering a sense of community also can make your area much more secure from crime. How many times have we heard of burglars brazenly pulling a moving van up to a house in broad daylight and emptying it of everything right under the neighbors’ noses? That would not happen if neighbors were even marginally aware of each others’ lives.
The best locations for block parties can include backyards, front yards, a garage, or smack in the middle of the end of your cul-de-sac. Encourage people to park off-street that day. If using a park or closing a street, find out about necessary permits.
Choose a natural boundary line, like the ends of a block, for your neighborhood party. Invite everyone on that block. No exclusions. Put invitation fliers into mailboxes. For gated apartment buildings or condos, contact the manager, who can put up fliers on common area bulletin boards. Post colorful signs the day of the party. The night of the party, you can also send kids around to knock on doors and present one more personal invitation.
A fire pit makes a nice gathering point. Have people bring their own chairs and alcohol. Bathroom policy should be “use your own.” If there’s to be food, you’ll need to set up a table, a trash can and recycling cans. Name tags and a sign-in book are also good ideas. So is an iPod and speakers set up with an eclectic mix of music.
The great thing about a neighborhood block party is it can be as large or small as you want. For a more organized event with a planning committee, this neighborhood block party kit is very helpful. Our community property owner’s association hosts an annual picnic where everyone brings a potluck dish; but desserts, (nonalcoholic) drinks, and tables and chairs are provided by the POA. We have a very competitive horseshoe contest, and often the local fire department comes out with an engine for the kids to explore. Sometimes we can get a representative from a wildlife rescue organization to come with animals and give a talk. Last year we got to meet rescued owls.
Personally, I prefer to keep it simple and casual. Let your neighbors know there will be an open gathering on a certain day and time every week or month. When they see you all out there having fun, encourage them again to join in. A very simple idea I like is to host “Wine Time” on a certain night every week. After dinner, neighbors can wander over with glasses in hand and mingle.
Kids can toss water balloons, bob for apples, draw with sidewalk chalk, have a treasure hunt, play hide-and-go-seek or even Kick The Can! Pets (on leashes) should be encouraged; in fact, have a pet parade with costumes!
If you’re closing off a street, you’ll of course need a permit, but also call the local fire department and ask if they would send out a couple of firefighters with an engine. They could talk about fire safety, let the kids explore the engine and run the siren, maybe even crack open a hydrant for a spray of water to frolic in.
Consider researching your neighborhood’s history and creating a display board with old photos and interesting facts.
Spend an hour picking up trash, planting trees, or painting an elderly neighbor’s fence.
Have a frozen t-shirt contest. To do this, wet t-shirts, wring out, fold up and place in the freezer the day before. The winner is the first person to figure out how to get the rock-hard t-shirt opened and on their body. Great for hot days.
Bring items for swapping: clothing and accessories, baby supplies, kitchen items, sports or garden equipment, and books could be on the list. As you get to know your neighbors, you may even begin swapping services such as lawn mowing in exchange for computer help, cooking lessons in exchange for babysitting, or car washes in exchange for sewing.
Arrange for an ice cream truck or a gourmet food truck to come by during the party.
It’s best to start small. Then, as you get the hang of organizing and can corral other neighbors to help, you can move to larger, more organized events. The important thing is to get out there and have fun. Meeting your neighbors will just happen naturally.