How to Organize an Epic Block Party That Will Have Everyone Dancing in the Street
A summertime staple of years past, the neighborhood block party deserves a comeback. Find out how to hold a festive, safe celebration that will have neighbors raving for months to come.
Summer’s here, and the time is right… for dancin’ in the street! Our toes have been tapping to the beat of that iconic summer jam, first performed by Martha and the Vandellas, for nearly 50 years. This summer, though, it’ll feel better than ever when we gather together to eat, dance, and make merry—so let’s bring back the block party. Read on to learn some pro tips for throwing the best street fest your neighborhood has ever known.
A Chance for Folks to Meet
Planning a neighborhood party may be a bigger job than you think, so you’ll want to solicit some assistance right away. Delegating responsibilities will take a lot of weight off your shoulders so you can relax and have as much fun as everyone else. Otherwise, you could get so stressed out from spearheading the whole thing that when the event actually kicks off, you’ll be too pooped to party.
Deciding on a date (and a rain date) is also a priority. Weekend days are at a premium in the good ol’ summertime, so give folks as much notice as possible. (Sending out a “save the date” and then filling in the deets later is A-OK.) Invitations can be issued online through Evite or Nextdoor, but you should also print out hard copies to pop in neighbors’ mailboxes and affix to telephone poles.
Make It Street Legal
Next up, a trip (or phone call) to City Hall. It’s likely that your block party will need a permit, but that’s not a high hurdle. Not only are permits often free or inexpensive, they generally come with some really handy perks, like sawhorses or other barricades to close off the street; “No Parking” signs so residents’ cars don’t get stuck inside the party space; and trash and recycling bins.
Some municipalities will even send some extra kid-friendly fun your way, in the form of free inflatables or even a visit from a ladder truck, courtesy of the local fire department.
Set Some Ground Rules
We get it. Rules are the last thing partiers want to hear about. But they’re necessary to ensure that everyone stays safe while having fun, an essential outcome if you want to make your block blowout an annual event. Consider and then compile guidelines relating to:
- Guests. Are only residents allowed, or will you welcome one and all? Or somewhere in between?
- Respecting those neighbors who don’t wish to participate.
- Property that’s off-limits (for instance, lawns, driveways, and porches).
- Bathroom facilities. Does everyone go back to their own home, or will some people provide their guest bathrooms for public use? (Pro tip: Rent portable units instead.)
- Consumption of alcohol and drugs, cigarette smoking, or any behavior that’s not appropriate for a family-friendly event.
- Pets. It would be difficult to designate a block party as a no-pets-allowed event, but you can request that people keep dogs on leashes or close at hand. Remind everyone to ask before approaching or touching others’ pets. There’s bound to be a lot of excitement and sensory stimulation, which could prove overwhelming to even an ordinarily well-behaved dog.
- Closing time. Sadly, all parties must come to an end. Especially if there are a lot of small children in the neighborhood, an early end time is probably best.
- Anything that violates local ordinances (alcohol consumption, curfew/quiet hours, noise limits).
Set Up Sign-Ups
Early on, use an online sign-up sheet service to solicit all of the necessary information from your guests, such as each family’s name and address, number of family members who will attend, the ages of their children, and their contact information.
The easiest (and least expensive) way to handle refreshments and entertainment is for all guests to pitch in. Have a sign-up slot for potluck items, roughly broken down into categories: appetizers, snacks, salads, proteins or mains, and desserts. Don’t forget practical items: napkins, plates, cups, utensils, condiments, garbage bags, disposable tablecloths, ice, and antibacterial wipes. The week of the party, check to see if everything’s covered, and if not, put out a call for those items.
Additionally, issue a request for people who can provide tables and chairs, pop-up canopy tents, a sound system, food and beverage coolers, and charcoal or gas grills (if allowed; check when you request your permit).
Music, Sweet Music
Get the party started with some classic crowd-pleasing tunes—you know, the ones that cause a mad rush to the dance floor. Make it a mix of Motown anthems (in Marvin’s and Martha’s honor), old-time rock ’n’ roll, current club bangers, sing-along faves, and chart-topping pop hits from all eras.
Add in plenty of kid music that will also appeal to grown-ups: They Might Be Giants, Caspar Babypants, The Not-Its, Dan Zanes, Recess Monkey, Laurie Berkner, and Trout Fishing in America. And remember those campy dance numbers that will have one and all, young and old, up on their feet: Gangnam Style, the Chicken Dance, Y.M.C.A., the Macarena, the Electric Slide, and U Can’t Touch This.
To streamline the street-party sound, set up a Spotify playlist in advance—or secure the services of a teenage or young-adult music buff who’s willing to play DJ for a day. They can take requests or tailor the tunes to the party’s mood.
Plenty of people will probably be content to eat, drink, and dance, but others may want a different diversion—and even the most dedicated dancers will benefit from a breather once in a while. Some suggestions for additional ways to entertain partygoers include:
- Outdoor games. Think bocce, badminton, ladderball, cornhole, or Kan Jam
- Outdoor toys. What would a block party be without sidewalk chalk, water blasters, water balloons, jump ropes, and an assortment of bubble wands?
- Set up a table off to the side with quieter activities, such as crafts or board games, as a laid-back oasis for anyone who’s feeling overwhelmed by the hullabaloo. Find craft kits of all kinds at a big-box hobby store so kids can make beaded friendship bracelets, batches of slime, fairy doors, or painted rocks.
- A few weeks in advance, ask around to find out what talents the neighborhood teens have—juggling, magic tricks, devil sticks, hooping. They’ll enjoy showing off their skills and/or teaching younger kids. Artistic tweens or teens can lend a hand by offering face painting or henna tattoos.
- Want to ensure your shindig is extra special? Splash out on top-notch options like a karaoke machine, a dunk tank, carnival games, a photo booth, or a visit from the ice cream truck.
- Holding a 50-50 raffle can help offset the cost of the block party. Or try drumming up donations from nearby businesses that you can auction or raffle off. Funds could go to a local charity or into the coffers for next year’s fete.
Cleaning up after the festivities is neck and neck with “rules” as the most boring part of the block party, but both are absolutely necessary. To make the aftermath easier to deal with, put out plenty of clearly labeled trash bins and recycling receptacles. Have volunteers make a couple of passes during the party to clear up big messes. Remind families to take their potluck slow cookers and platters, lawn games, and any other contributions with them when they head out—but just in case, also select one household to serve as a lost and found.