What is a Block Party?

Block PartyA block party is a large public celebration in which many members of a single neighborhood congregate, either to observe an event of some importance or simply for mutual enjoyment. The name comes from the form of the party, which often involves closing an entire city block to vehicle traffic. Many times, there will be celebration in the form of playing music and dance. Block parties gained popularity in the United States during the 1970s. Block parties were often held outdoors and power for the DJ’s sound system was taken illegally from street lights. This was famously referenced in the song “South Bronx” by KRS-One with the line:


“Power from a street light made the place dark. But yo, they didn’t care, they turned it out.”

Traditionally, many inner city block parties were actually held illegally, because they did not file for an event permit from the local authorities “if needed”. However, police turned a blind eye to them.

In the suburbs, block parties are commonly held on holidays such as Fourth of July or Labor Day. Sometimes the occasion may be a theme such a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” for a new family or a recent popular movie. Often block parties involve barbecuing, lawn games such as Simon Says and group dancing such as the Electric Slide, the Macarena or line dancing.

In other usage, a block party has come to mean any informal public celebration. For example, a block party can be conducted via television even though there is no real block in the observance. The same is true for the Internet.

The block party is closely related to the beach party. The British equivalent is the street party.

A block party often includes a fire hydrant spouting water at the neighborhood children. In many small towns, the local fire department may also participate in the party, bringing out trucks that they display for show.

Block parties remain a part of American culture. An example of a contemporary block party is the one held by Ronnie Mund of the Howard Stern show in July 2006.

With the hectic lifestyle most of us lead, it’s much harder to get to know our neighbors than it used to be. Between rushing to our jobs, racing to drop the kids at daycare, running off with them to soccer practice, or catching up on weekend errands, people seem to spend very little time around their home.

Here are some basic guidelines for organizing a block party. The specific legalities will vary by township or city ordinances.

Three Months Before

* Form a Block Party Committee consisting of several households and hold an organizational meeting.
* One member should become the main contact person, responsible for sending out invitations, arranging publicity and answering questions.
* Assign one person to handle permits, insurance and other legal requirements. Check with the township office or public works department to get this information.
* Put another person in charge of organizing food and refreshments.
* Appoint another person to be activity coordinator.
* Don’t forget to put someone in charge of the clean-up committee!
* Survey the neighborhood to select the date for the party. Send out petitions to all affected residents, if required by ordinances.
* Decide how the food will be handled: Will the Committee purchase food and beverages and simply charge attendees a flat fee? Will the Committee plan a menu and assign recipes to each household? Will you ask everyone to bring a main course and beverage for their own family, and a side dish to share with others? Will you be serving alcoholic beverages and are any special permits or insurance required?

One Month Before

* Send out invitations. This can be done as part of a neighborhood newsletter or as a separate mailed notice.
* Apply for necessary permits.
* Investigate noise ordinances and see whether any permits are required to keep the party going into the late night hours.
* Make arrangements to get barricades to block off the streets surrounding the party.
* Purchase any necessary insurance to cover the event.
* Make arrangements for toilet facilities, if necessary.
* Reserve equipment you will need to rent such as tables, tents, sound system, etc. Ask everyone to bring their own chairs.

One Week Before

* Publicize the party. This can be signs posted throughout the neighborhood, ads in local newspapers or a phone call chain.
* Confirm all arrangements that have been made with emergency, police and fire departments.
* Confirm arrangements for barricades, entertainment, food, refreshments, tents, tables and any other equipment that will be rented or borrowed.

Activities and Other Things to Plan

Suggested Activities

* Invite the local police and fire departments to visit and give safety demonstrations and tours of their vehicles.
* Organize contests such as a dance contest; a food-eating contest; three-legged races; potato sack races; basketball shooting contests; volleyball tournament. Kick off the day with a parade comprised of floats for the little children and a dressed up bike parade for the older ones.
* Hire a clown or magician to entertain the children with balloon sculptures, magic and face painting.

Don’t Forget…

* Nametags – they may seem geeky, but it’s a lot easier than trying to remember everyone’s names or doing self-introductions.
* A bullhorn if there will be organized contests and activities.
* Tubs with ice for chilling beverages.
* Coolers for storing perishable foods.
* Store meats separately from other food to protect against contamination.
* Clean up when you’re done!

Related Party Ideas:

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