Summer is here! If you are a Chicago resident, you must have noticed that block parties are a summer tradition here. If no one on your street has taken the initiative to organize one by now, then why don’t you do it? They are a great opportunity to get to know your neighbors and strengthen ties with them. After all, the safest and best kept blocks are those with strong relationships.
Alderman Ray Colon from the 35th Ward recommends going to your local Alderman to assist you in the process of closing your local roadway 1-day a year so that everyone on the block can play and build a tight community network. He also suggests the following tips for a successful block party:
Get a Permit
Contact your Alderman to find out how to acquire a “Street Closure” permit. Ask about what resources might be available. The police and fire departments are always happy to conduct a presentation for the kids. A city-sponsored jumping jack or Bounce House can also be scheduled early in the summer on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Set a Theme
Setting a theme gives direction to the event and aids in planning the party. Determine whether you want to have it on Saturday or Sunday, afternoon or evening, or if you want to plan on an all-day Block Party. Some blocks encourage families or neighbors to wear distinctive colored t-shirts or hats to form a common block identity.
It can take years to get some people to participate if they don’t feel comfortable or if the main activities are on the opposite end of the street. Start the Block Party in the middle of the block and find ways for people on both ends of the block to contribute. By setting a time for a block Pot Luck Dinner, you honor the individual family parties while setting an inclusive tone for all your neighbors and their guests to share.
Be Safe and Respectful
It’s important for everyone to know and agree on safety rules. Minimize any tripping hazards and ensure that dogs or other pets are safely out of the way. Set a time limit for the block party so that it doesn’t get out of hand or disturb neighbors who need to sleep.
Taking the lead does not mean one person or family should do it all. Avoid stress and be intentional about assigning party planning duties to neighbors on both ends of the street. Ask one person to make the invitation flyer, another to bring yard chairs and tables, someone else to be available to run store errands and dedicate a few others to work the grills. Most families will bring food and beverages for their own individual gatherings, but it is common to ask each home to donate a set amount to offset the cost of the prizes, children’s activities and entertainment for the entire block.
Get a commitment from certain people to stay and clean up afterwards. Make sure each front yard is checked for litter or doggie debris. Have trash and recycling bins available throughout the street.
Encourage the kids to bring out their bikes, skateboards, scooters or roller blades, but remind them to use safety gear. Consider scheduling pony rides, inflatable slides, popcorn machines, BBQs and lawn games. Since kids aren’t the only ones who need games to break-the-ice; plan adult activities geared towards introducing people to each other. Start off with a game of Egg Toss, play music everyone likes, dance, sing karaoke, do the Electric Slide and “Hey Macarena!”. If you want more ideas for adult activities, check the activities happening at the Sound System Block Party this Saturday July 20 on Milwaukee & Evergreen (Wicker Park Neighborhood).
A Block Party may take some work for planning, but the sense of community you build through them (and the fun you get!) are worth the effort.