By Robin Stevenson
It’s a common scenario: Your family is good friends with the next-door neighbours, but you only exchange nods of recognition with the fellow down the block. So how do you make your little corner of the world a little more social?
“A street party is a great way to get the people in the community together to get to know each other and make it a safe and more fun place to live,” says Garth Ritchie, a dad of two boys and one of the organizers of an annual street festival of 100 or so houses on Toronto’s Roseheath Avenue.
So if this is the year that you’re finally going to organize a bash on your block, here’s how to make it happen.
Less talk, more action
Just deciding to have an event is often the hardest step. Get started by distributing a letter to your neighbours outlining your idea for a block party and some of the benefits — meeting new people, creating a sense of community and of course, just a fun day out. Include a questionnaire asking them to indicate what dates work best, what kind of event they prefer and their interest in participating and volunteering. Timing: Two to three months in advance (depending on size of party).
So the neighbours are on board. Great. And more than a few are willing to volunteer. Even better. Now’s the time to have a planning meeting to hammer out the details, from the date (plus rain date), size and length of the event, theme (if any), food, budget and suggested donation (it’s $10 per household for the 11-hour Roseheath event), a list of possible activities and the date of your next meeting. Timing: Six to eight weeks in advance.
Most special-events applications for a street closure can be downloaded from your municipal website. Ask your municipal office about permit fees, how to obtain liability insurance, where to rent traffic barricades and about noise bylaw exemptions if you are planning on running your event into the evening hours. This is also a good time to contact your local fire service and police departments about having a fire truck and police cruiser at the party – a surefire hit with the kids. Timing: Six to eight weeks in advance.
Serve it up
Will food and drinks be free with a donation, will you sell tickets or does everyone provide their own food to grill? Will you prepay an ice cream truck driver to provide open-bar style treats? If you are asking people to contribute to a potluck, design a sign-up sheet. Timing: Five weeks in advance.
Fun and games
When planning activities, consider who lives on your street. If there are hordes of kids, organize games (see sidebar for list) with small prizes, a face-painting/temporary tattoo booth and water balloons and sprinklers for hot days. Blankets and baby toys laid out under a shady tree provide an oasis for new parents to sit and talk, while your more senior residents might enjoy a few tables set aside for card games. As night falls, keep the party going with music (provided by a DJ or a collection of talented folks from the street) and dancing, or even an outdoor screening of a movie (projector, portable DVD player and large white sheet required). Timing: Five weeks in advance.
Getting the word out
Hand out the invitation with all the party details. If there are still games that need to be run, BBQs that need to be staffed or items such as tables required, solicit volunteers (include a contact number or e-mail). Ask each household to sign up a dish for the potluck and to drop off donations. Remind neighbours to bring their own chairs, plates, cups and cutlery (if needed) and about any special events that might be taking place on the day, like a garden tour or talent show, so they can prepare accordingly. Timing: Four weeks in advance.
Let the countdown begin
Distribute a reminder flyer including a schedule of events and a final call for volunteers. Ritchie suggests going door-to-door with it, using this opportunity to collect any outstanding donations. “We get approximately a 80-90 percent success rate on these donations.” He also recommends leaving a note on cars on the street asking drivers to park somewhere else on the day of the party. Timing: One week in advance.
The set up
Erect barricades and designate areas for food, activities and seating. Sweep up litter and collect chairs, tables, canopies, garbage and recycling bins, BBQs and a music system. Ask younger volunteers to put up signs, balloons or any banners you have to decorate the area. Hand out nametags to organizers. Timing: That morning.
Bring the block bash
Kick off your inaugural event with a super starter like a bike, pet or silly hat parade, then get the activities and tables set up. Finally, get out there, meet your neighbours and get busy making mental notes for next year’s party.
Keep reading for more helpful tips on how to make your next street party a success.