Block Parties & Neighborhood Socializing

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How do I organize a block party?

Feb 2011

More specifically: How do you get the neighbors to actually show up? We don't know our neighbors well, but I think there is a general interest in being neighborly. How do you collect money/ pay for things like a bouncy house, paper goods, and maybe even food (or do people just do potluck?)? How do I go about getting a permit to close off the street from the city of Berkeley? And finally, how wide of a reach would you invite to your block party? Just the block it's hosted on? a couple blocks surrounding? etc.. Sounds like a fun idea- I just need some help getting started. Thanks! dreaming of summer

My neighborhood has a block party yearly. It has enhanced a wonderful bond on our street. I don't live in Berkeley and obviously don't know the needs of your block, so your mileage may vary.

1) consider times with the best weather; i.e. that magical few weeks between the end of August and the middle of October. Your microclimate may vary.

2) check well in advance with your city as to the rules and availability of permits

3) get a few core people together with whom you chat occasionally, and see if they're interested. With them, form a committee (start with your neighborhood watch group?). You can figure out with their help how far you want to extend invitations. We put the invitations out to our short length of street, invite people to bring friends and family, and each family is requested to bring a potluck dish and donate $25 to cover bouncy, food, entertainment, insurance, etc. We've had as many as 100 peeps but it varies. I'd say start smallish.

4) You'll want 2 trustworthy people to handle the money; they can use Google Docs to keep track of $ that comes in and who RSVPS; a person to coordinate entertainment; possibly someone to create a potluck list (so you don't wind up with all chips and no dip); someone to handle permit and insurance; a setup and cleanup crew.

5) decide if you want a theme, and the date and time. Give yourselves at least 8 hours to set up, party, and clean up. That way people will have time to relax and hang out in the middle.

6) serving booze? Have a responsible adult watching over the area with alcohol. If you're serving something like sangria or hard lemonade, be extra careful to keep it separate from kids drinks, and make sure people mark their cups

7) We have a few key people pay for the permit, reserve a bouncy house, shop at Costco for paper goods, burgers and drinks. They get reimbursed by others who chip in along with their potluck contribution.

8) We sometimes hire entertainment. In leaner times, we just stick with the exceptional musicians on our block. I always face paint because that's my heart's delight. We have bubbles, sidewalk chalk, little wading pools, and water guns. You could put out a craft table, have games, etc. Alana from Alameda

I love your enthusiasm for getting your neighbors together! I cannot advise you on the technicalities, but I do urge you to start small. Since it sounds like the first block party for your neighborhood, why don't you organize an ice cream social? Pick a date, time (evening after dinner, but not so late that the kids are in bed), buy ice cream (big 5 gallon chocolate and vanilla), toppings, spoons, bowls and napkins yourself. Have it on your front yard area/driveway. Make a flyer for the neighbors to invite them and let them know you'll have ice cream, but they are welcome to bring an additional treat. Then see who shows up! Hopefully it will become a summer tradition and will grow naturally into a larger gathering like you envision or perhaps it will stay simple and sweet. Either way, your goal of meeting the neighborhoods and developing community will be reached. Have fun!
Block Parties require a street closure form from the City of Berkeley: The fee is $15 and I've found it convenient to pick them up in person at: Transportation Division, 1947 Center Street, 3rd Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704

The permit allows you to pick up street barricades from the Berkeley Cooperate yard, but we've never bothered with them. Some ribbons and trash bins do the job quite well.

As for getting your block organized, you'll probably have to invite your neighbors to a meeting. You could hand out fliers. Keoncrest and Catherine happens to be one of the original test blocks for the rBlock web site, and it's been extremely useful in organizing events and keeping neighbors informed: Alex

I've participated in block parties a few different places I've lived (Oakland and Moraga). Answers to your questions:

-- You can't guarantee everyone will show up, so I would set a date with a few neighbors, then talk to or pass out flyers to the rest of the block. I would definitely include the surrounding block or two. Whatever makes sense geographically. If only the few neighbors you've planned with show up, at least that is a start. Many people will just wander in to say hi and then leave, but that's cool. You'll be laying the groundwork for future communication/parties.

-- For food, we selected a house or two to be the ''base'' house(s). We had a couple of families pull their grills out to the front lawn of one house or to the curb. We had people bring their own grillable food (if they wanted to grill at all), and then something to share. Again, have the neighbors you've set the date with all commit to something different (drinks, side dishes, desserts), so you at least will have the bases covered.

-- In Oakland, we had someone who was able to set up a small monitor and microphone (like an open-mic deal), and we invited neighbors to share kind of performance. Some of the kids did a puppet show, some did really silly dances, and some played songs on violin, guitar, etc. It was pretty cool. You don't even need the mic or monitor to make that happen. One year, we let the kids have a massive water balloon fight, which many adults joined.

-- I have been fortunate to live on either a cul-de-sac or a street with a big L-shaped turn out, so we never went the route of shutting the street down. No advice there. Maybe for your first one, keep it low-key, then if this one generates interest, do the bouncy house and street closing next year?

Rereading my response, I am remembering how fun these are. I encourage you to do it. The biggest fun is meeting older neighbors who have lived in the area for decades and can fill you in on the history of your street! We haven't done one in a few summers, and you've inspired me to do it this year. Thanks!

Hosting a party for neighbors

Nov 2008

After a few years with young kids and a recent move, my social life has taken a hit. As part of an effort to feel more connected to my community, I was thinking of hosting a holiday party for my neighbors with young children. I've never attempted an indoor party with so many children, and I was wondering if anyone has any guidelines they might suggest for how many young children can comfortably be in one space. We have two pretty good sized rooms, plus a small play room for use for this possible party. I'm trying to figure out if this party is possible-- do we need to wait for Spring when we could be outside? All the people invited to this party would have children 7 and under. How many kids and adults would you dare to invite? What percent would you expect to come? Would you plan activities to keep kids occupied, like at a birthday party, or expect them to amuse themselves while the adults mingled? Is there a way to space the party out so that not everyone is there at once? And, if so, how to you phrase that in the invitation? I have fears of being overwhelmed by a mob of wound-up children and fears of trying to entertain a lone guest waiting for others to trickle in. I feel foolish for letting all the details overwhelm me. I guess I'm not a natural hostess. Specific advice as to the details of hosting would really help me out! -Hostess with the Mostest Anxiety

We do a party like this every New Year's. We do a pre-New Year's eve party and invite about 30 neighbors. Most people stay for an hour, so if you have a 12-3pm gathering, the kids' visits will be spread out. Many people travel over the holidays, so you may not get as many people as you think. By the time they are over 4 - most kids know appropriate behavior - as do their parents. We have a ''shoes-off'' policy which really helps keeping dirt and rain out. You may also consider having a friend help out in the kids room, so their not just free-playing, but have some guidance. Provide some art tools. Best of Luck
About a year and a half ago I moved to Emeryville, my son was two and a half. I happened to chat with two neighbors who lived across from me--two dads & their toddler son. They'd been hosting a casual Parents Happy Hour on Fridays. Anyway now some nearly two years later it now rotates houses every week, there are about four or five core families who come every week (kiddos ranging from 16 mos to 4 years) and we all invite others, both with & without kids, as we like. it is SO fun. its time for the kids to play, grown ups to chat etc. sometimes the host goes all out, cooking etc. and sometimes we order pizza! I say just let your neighbors know your thoughts--that you're looking to create community, to meet other parents etc. I would be willing to bet that they're as anxiously seeking connection as you are! julie
If you say ''open house'' on the invite, people will know they can come anytime you specify (like 2-5). (since you are worried about entertaining, don't do it during a meal time) During the holidays, lots of people will have other engagements or be too tired to come, so it's a good time to try it. Can't give you a percentage, though--maybe half? Our kind neighbor does something like this each year and there are never that many people. Since you are nervous about the kids, how about hiring a teen to amuse them? If you don't know anyone you can post on parents of teens list. But at this kind of party each parent SHOULD keep track of their own kid. Have some non-messy crafts set up in playroom and an age appropriate video ready to go--you don't need to entertain them every minute like at a birthday party. Go for it!
Hi, I think I can help. I did this exact thing last winter and it went pretty well. We called it an open house and had a really long time frame, like 12 to 5. Don't try to give people different time slots, just open it all up to everyone and people will stagger themselves(those with youngest kids usually turn up first.) For kid-only parties I plan activities but for this one, the kids just played and adults talked/took care of kids. Make sure your children put away any special toys they don't want to share and make sure there are some good things out for the guest kids to play with. Also make the backyard available even if it is cold and have tricycles, balls, and stuff like that out there. Just put drinks and cups out, and food that can stay out and be replenished all day long. Have fun. It is an effort but you will be really glad you did it. partier!
I don't know where you live, but if you are near to a place that has a holiday event, you could organize a party around that. Every year I host several other families, all with small kids, for a party that involves an outing to the Tilden Park carousel, which is near our house. They have it all decorated for the holidays and there's a Santa there. Everyone gathers at my house for cocktails and appetizers (with food appropriate for children and adults), and then once it's dark, it's into cars and off to the carousel. I stay at home (with whatever adults want to stay back), clear the appetizers, and get a simple dinner on the table. In the past I've done homemade mac and cheese, a green salad, and a dessert. Everyone comes back, eats, and the children do a book exchange (we specify who buys for whom so children get books that work for them), which helps keep the kids busy while the adults finish dinner. We usually do this on a Sunday night, keeping it a fairly early event and staying out of the way of everyone's other holiday obligations on the prime nights.

If you're not near the carousel, you could look for other Santa opportunities in your area. Good luck! cindy

How about hosting an Open House? Give the time frame for people to arrive then they will be free to come and go during that time frame. It may solve the problem of having too many people at once. I would suggest having some activities set up as well as free play activities for the kids. If you can hire a teen (friend, sitter, or neighbor) to keep the kids occupied and help with the activities that would be very helpful. Ideas for activities: crafts, playdough, games, etc. anon
I have had a lot of parties in my house for friends and neighbors. We used to have a 950 sq ft house and still could make it work for up to 100 people. Our new house is a bit over 2000 sq ft and last spring we hosted a party for 220 people (at least 75 kids). It only worked because the weather was nice. I would need to ask you a lot of questions beyond the info you provide to adequately advise you. If you want some help, feel free to email me. But it is do-able. And can be fun. the_missus
We had a party once and hired a babysitter (would have been two if there were more kids). We had movies in one of our kids' bedrooms, and ordered pizza for all the kids. It worked really well! I'd put something on the invitation like ''will have kid- friendly food, entertainment and our favorite babysitter on hand.'' anon
I do these sorts of parties quite frequently...Why don't you try something like an 'open house'that is spread out over three or four hours...people come and go...parents are in charge of their own kids...You can have casual appetizers and lots of wine/beer...costco can do your menu if you are not a confident cook or your job demands more than party planning allows...

I've had 20-plus kids in my house. Besides some clean up the next day, it was pretty easy... Jan

I have friends who host a holiday open house every year and it is FANTASTIC. They ask everyone to bring an appetizer to share, they provide drinks and some basic appetizers, and then it's come-and-go as you please. It is the #1 party I look forward to for the holidays. That way you could spread out the influx of people, which sounds like it might help.

They usually do have one little craft or activity for the kids, like decorate a cookie, or make a mini-gingerbread house, or maybe just some craft stickers and glue sticks to decorate a holiday picture frame. For adults who might not know each other they can also ''do'' something to avoid that awkward feeling. I'll be interested to hear what others say!! party girl

I'd go for the adults only version of the neighborhood get together. I think you could safely invite 30-40 adults no problem. You'd be surprised what you can accomodate if your party is standing room only with beverages and heavy appetizers. Have a blast