How many of your neighbors do you know? How well do you know them? Imagine your house as the center square of a Tic Tac Toe board and the surrounding squares are all your neighbors. Of the eight houses surrounding yours, how many names do you know? (Those houses behind you sure can be tough.) Do you know anything about your neighbor that isn’t apparent from the outside of the house (i.e. John likes to garden, Mary likes to cook)?
A block party is the perfect opportunity to meet and get to know your neighbors. By knowing who lives on your block you can know who might need a little extra help from time to time, find out about the neighborhood’s history from those who have been there for a longer time, and know what skills your neighbors can share. Having some fun with your neighbors can increase the sense of belonging within our community and facilitate neighbors looking out for one another.
Types of Block Parties
Any option (or combo of options) can work, but keep it simple:
- BBQ – Someone brings the grills, everyone brings their own meat
- Picnic – Everyone brings their own food
- Pot luck – Everyone brings a dish to share
- Catered – Everyone shares the cost to let someone else do the work
Public spaces are best, as it increases the sense of community and shared responsibility for the event:
- Street or alley (permit required)
You’ll need to plan ahead, especially if you want to use the street (permit application is due 3 weeks prior to the event). Have a couple of dates in mind as you go around to notify neighbors because adjustments may need to be made if neighbors have conflicts. Per city ordinance, block parties are allowed until 10 p.m. Every year during the first week of August the City of Wauwatosa and Wauwatosa Police Department host Tosa Night Out, which is “designed to build and sustain community police partnerships that have a lasting impact on the quality of life for Wauwatosa’s residents, businesses, and visitors.” In recent years that large community event has been paired with a encouragement to neighbors to hold their block parties on the weekend prior to the event. If you are struggling to determine when to hold your block party, we strongly suggest participating in the lead up to Tosa Night Out.
Wauwatosa Block Party Permit
If you are hosting a block party in the street, remember that a permit is required. Petition forms can be obtained at the Police Department Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. at the front desk, or you can download a Block Party Permit Application/Petition. The petition for a permit must be returned to the Police Department a minimum of 3 weeks prior to the block party. Not only do signatures from all neighbors need to be obtained, but all non-residential establishments within the area that would be impacted by the street closing need to be notified. The cost for the permit is free, however the permit includes a few options for barricades for a modest fee.
- For a $35 fee (payable with your application) the Public Works Department will deliver two (2) barricades before the party and at the conclusion of the party with placement of barricades on curb area the City truck and crew will pick up the barricades the following work day.
- Block party banners are available from Community Support on a first come, first served basis with a $25 deposit that will be returned when you return the banner.
Getting the word out
The whole point is to meet your neighbors, so going door-to-door is always best. Flyers can be also be used for planning with a request that neighbors return their suggestions to the organizer(s) and again once the block party details have been determined.
Consider using a sign-in book to help plan for next year, which can also be used as a contact list to distribute to the participants. Name tags can also be helpful (first name/last name/house number), you may be meeting a lot of new people, and remembering names is hard. Be sure to have plenty of tables, chairs, plates, cutlery, cups, and beverages. Don’t forget to wheel out a couple of garbage cans to make clean-up easier. Be considerate to your neighbors and ask if its OK to bring your dog out too. Make sure there are going to be enough people hanging around until the end to help clean up. Near the end of the night, talk about what worked, what didn’t, and any new ideas.
Block Party Activities
Food and drinks usually are the primary focus, but there are plenty of other things to consider. Kids (and many adults) appreciate games like egg/water balloon toss, sack races, volleyball/badminton, etc. (Prizes can help encourage participation, anything from dollar-store gag gifts to a trophy that travels to the annual winning house). Bouncy houses can be rented for very reasonable rates. The whole point is to get to know your neighbors, so make time to introduce one another and point out your house. This can be done informally, or in game format. Whether it’s a portable speaker with tunes, a neighbor paying the guitar or even a band, music can really liven the party. Be sure to invite the Police Department, Fire Department and your alderman. They can provide safety and neighborhood updates and maybe even arrange to have a fire engine stop by.
- Block parties are only only allowed until 10 p.m.
- Emergency vehicles may still need access, so don’t block the street in any way that can’t easily be moved.
- You may want to post signs or send out a notice the day before the event to remind everyone to remove cars.
- HAVE FUN!
[Adapted from “Neighborhood Block Party Kit” distributed by the City of Edmonton Community Services Department]