Throw a Block Party!

Photo credit: Christine Wolf
Photo credit: Christine Wolf

Neighbors are less likely to know each other on heavily trafficked streets, making them more isolated and vulnerable, especially during crises. Empirical research demonstrates that residents of the street with low car traffic volume had three times more friends than those living on the street with high car traffic. This is a problem that can be remedied by reclaiming space and/or time on streets for people.

Block parties are one enjoyable way of getting to know your neighbors and building a stronger community. Ironically, only on blocks with little traffic are they currently allowed! If you live on a block on which they are allowed, please make use of the opportunity, being sure to invite your neighbors living on heavily-trafficked streets.

In 2012 Evanston residents hosted a total of 155 block parties. An inspection of the map reveals block party deserts in several of the wards.  We need more people willing to organize new block parties! Doing so need not be difficult, but could benefit from planning, neighborhood support, and the sharing of organizational responsibilities. Allowable dates for block parties in Evanston are May 1st through September 30th 


Ideally a core group  of three to four people will help you plan the block party. Try putting a simple flyer in neighbors’ mailboxes inviting them to meet to discuss a block party. This may be a good time to begin building a contact list for your block, which will come in handy to advertise the party and many other occasions. Google groups offers an easy way to create an email list.

At the first meeting, agree on a time and date for the block party, making sure to also schedule a rain date. At the meeting, discuss who will do what. If people are hesitant to take on a leadership role, let them know that they can help with as little as an hour delivering flyers or helping set-up and clean-up.

Submit the permit to the city at least ten days before the event. Whomever submits the permit is responsible for returning the city barricades to the parkway of their home at the end of the party. If there are children on your block, consider checking the box on the permit asking your beat patrolman and your neighborhood firemen to come.

Decide who will bring tables, cups, plates, napkins and utensils. Some blocks have a tradition of each family bringing one main dish for themselves, plus a side dish or dessert to share. Other blocks invite each family to bring a dish unique to their heritage to share. Finally, arrange for trash cans and recycling bins; it is your responsibility to make sure the street is clean when the party is over. Stay organized by keeping a list of who is bringing what to the party.

Think about how you want your block to look. A cheerful look is easy with a lot of balloons tied to trees and fences. Tiki torches and lots of twinkling lights are festive when the sun sets. Arrange for simple entertainment and/or music. If you want to rent a “bouncy house” , there are several options (tell us in the comments if one is preferable).  Word on the street is that the cost will run between $150-200.

Create a flyer announcing the time, date and location of the block party and take it door-to-door, being sure to include neighbors on adjacent blocks. Post it in public places around the neighborhood so that even more of your neighbors feel included. Include in the flyer the plan for food and planned sequence of events.

Photo credit: Lisa Degliantoni
Photo credit: Lisa Degliantoni

Ideas for the party

  • Some blocks borrow a projector and project movies against hanging sheets or walls. If you do, consider showing a double feature.
  • Offer nametags to reduce unease and start conversations.
  • Invite children to bring our their tricycles and scooters and enjoy their street car-free.
  • Find out if anyone can play music; live is always better than recorded.
  • Take lots of photographs and share them with us; we will post them here.
  • Be courteous to all of your neighbors by turning down music and lights after 9:00 pm.
  • Don’t over-plan. Games are useful to get people involved at the beginning, but people want the opportunity to relax and talk as well.
  • Organize simple activities to keep younger children busy, such as sidewalk chalk art, giant bubble blowing, tossing water balloons (this gets messy), facepainting, etc.
  • Invite people to bring out old sofas and chairs and put them in the street.

After it is all over, sit down with the planning committee and evaluate the event so that next time it will be even better. Share your experience here; if we get enough of a response we will create a community forum!


When we learn to trust each other, collaboration becomes possible.  Click here for an entertaining animation of how sharing with neighbors can transform our lives. We can save time and money, consume less, and enjoy life more. “In a shareable world, things like car sharing, clothing swaps, childcare co-ops, potlucks, and cohousing make life more fun, green, and affordable. When we share, not only is a better life possible, but a better world.”

Is this your year

This page is part of a project of Leadership Evanston XXI: “Culture of Community”

14 thoughts on “Throw a Block Party!”

  1. Some ideas: enlist older kids (teenagers) to plan and run the events for the younger ones. Have a bike/scooter parade–get the kids together before the official start of the block party to decorate them (provide paper streamers, etc. for decorations) and play recorded (or live) music for the parade.

  2. We’ve had people set up home-made mini-golf holes on their front lawns. We have also done a giant ice cream sundae in a length of new (and well washed) gutter.

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  4. Recently our community Ridgeville Band of Evanston played for ‘Streets Alive’. We were set up on the corner of Main and Ridge. Would you like us to play again this year? Please contact me! Thanks.

    1. Hi Gary, we loved having the band there; however, we found it difficult to organize all the chairs needed given our small volunteer crew. Would it be possible for the band to sit in the Grey Park amphitheater in lieu of chairs?

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