Organize a block party and your life will never be the same. There’s the pleasure of the occasion: The tranquillity of a traffic-free street, children scooting madly and merrily up and down the hill, neighbors at ease with each other in a neutral space, the satisfaction of success at the end of the day. And after the big day, the effects go on: More familiar and friendly faces on the block, more cooperation and help, more trust and understanding. This is a taste of how reclaiming our streets transforms our lives, making us happier and more connected.
No matter how many block parties you’ve been involved with, you learn more with every occasion. Here are some lessons to take your next block party experience to a higher level.
1. Bring everyone together for a group photo
A group photo is a powerful moment where a community visually flexes its muscles, saying in effect “This is who we are. We’re unified, we care about each other, and our leaders better listen to us.”
2. Talk to people you wouldn’t usually approach, including other generations
How often do you think “That neighbor doesn’t look like the kind of person who would talk to me” without even attempting a conversation? A block party can break down those walls. Juan (left) lives directly across the street to me. I’d seen him many times and yet this was the first time we’d spoken.
It doesn’t matter whether or not someone looks like “your kind of person”; they’re your neighbor. And people today are more cut off than ever from other generations, which is a shame because every age group has something to offer: The young bring energy and enthusiasm, the older can share their wisdom and experience. Take advantage of your block party to reach out to new neighbors.
3. Offer your neighbors an opportunity to contribute
Our neighbor Larry usually runs the block party barbecue. However, at the last minute Larry got the flu, so Silke (left) and Alphonzo (right) jumped in and took over. And before and after the event, our block’s email list lit up with neighbors claiming responsibility for bulk food buying, moving barricades, returning lost items to their rightful owners, and so on.
A sense of responsibility and purpose in one’s community can make us all happier but when it comes to participating in their communities, most folks stay on the sidelines. A block party gives them a chance to get involved – whether its flipping burgers, moving barricades, or buying ice. Take advantage of this opportunity and dish out roles to your willing neighbors.
4. Give people different positions from which to enjoy the day
We’re all a little different; some of us like to be in the middle of the crowd, others prefer to enjoy the scene from the periphery. Make sure people have a variety of options for where they can spend time, including a space that’s well defined, as in the photo above. At our recent block party, this set up attracted some people who usually hovered on the sidewalk.
5. End the day with something special
Neighbors Alphonzo and Dennis organized an after-dark block party screening of The Empire Strikes Back and invited a lot of people to show up. We passed around snacks as the movie played, thoroughly enjoying using our street as a movie theater.
A movie is a great way to end a block party, giving everyone something to congregate around, while still allowing people at the back to talk. And it reveals a powerful aspect of block parties: Helping people to envision streets as places for many different kinds of social activities, not just for driving through.
Now stop reading and talk to your neighbors
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much you know (notice how I didn’t tell you much about what there should be at a block party – it’s up to you to figure it out), it’s what you do. You can learn everything there is to know about great block parties, but it doesn’t count for anything unless you get up and make it happen. Here’s what you do: Talk to a neighbor about it. That’s it. Everything will come from a simple conversation.
DO IT. You’ll be glad you did.