Tips on Throwing a Neighborhood Block Party

Friday, September 18, 2009

Want to throw a block party? It takes a village. Or at least a (willing and able) block. Here's what you need to know.


First, feel out the neighborhood to see whether anyone else thinks a block party is a good idea. That could mean going door to door if you really want to lobby people and meet your neighbors, or starting a neighborhood e-mail discussion group if one doesn't exist.

Form a planning committee to delegate responsibilities, including collecting money, arranging party rentals and figuring out what each household can contribute (DJ duties, speakers and/or music, games, chairs and tables, food).

Getting Started

The neighborhood, or at least a majority of residents, thinks a block party is a great idea, and now you're throwing one from scratch. Here's what you need:

-- Time. At least four weeks. Six is better. In the District, you must file a street closure application with the city's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency at least 15 business days before the event. You must also submit an application with signatures from 51 percent of the residents and business owners on the street you want to close. Applications and signature sheets may be downloaded from the agency Web site,, or picked up from 2720 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE. Montgomery and Arlington counties require neighbors to be notified in advance, but no signatures are necessary. Check with your county or local government for the rules in your area.

-- Communication. Since not everyone checks their e-mail closely -- or even has e-mail -- mailbox fliers are a good way to alert people about planning meetings. Quebec Place party co-organizer John Hanly and Jim Burke, who organizes the Woodside Park party in Silver Spring, said they distribute fliers reminding residents of the party about two weeks out. An e-mail discussion group helps keep everyone in the loop about all sorts of neighborhood concerns, not just the party. It's also a useful tool for coordinating dishes. That way, you don't end up with five bowls of potato salad but no plastic forks.

-- Answers. To all sorts of questions, including: Will it be a park picnic or a street party? Is it a potluck, where everyone brings their own food, or will you order pizzas? Will there be a moon bounce? Cotton candy? Popcorn? Tents? Does anyone have a truck to pick up these things, or will they be delivered?

-- A Date. Be aware of potential scheduling conflicts. Many neighborhoods have parties well into October. But avoid Sundays, especially if the Redskins are playing at home. Holiday weekends can be tricky if people have made plans to go out of town.

-- Volunteers. Secure volunteers for setup, supervision and cleanup. The more equipment you have, the more adults you need to operate it. If this is an all-day party, be sure to organize volunteers in shifts.


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