Seven Steps to Planning Your Block Party

By Marilyn Sneiderman and Pamela Vaughn-Cooke

(This article appeared in the October/November 2005 issue fo the SP News.)

So you've been thinking about holding a block party, but wondering how to start. Here's how we organized our recent block party for 12th Street between Geranium and Holly and Holly to 13th Street.

The initial motivations for our block party were the many new people who were moving into our area and concerns that had been raised about the activities of some of our area's teenaged boys. We felt it would make a big difference if people got a chance to really meet each other; and, in particular, we wanted the teenagers to feel part of the party and wanted the newer neighbors to get to know the teens.

  1. Committee. We wanted a representative group - diverse by age, race, time in neighborhood, etc. We met and decided upon what jobs needed to be done and who would do them and set up a timeline with shared responsibilities. One person assumed responsibility for overall coordination - convening meetings, etc.
  2. Time and Place. We decided on a relatively short event, 3 5 p.m., knowing it might go longer. We chose a Saturday, with Sunday as a rain date. We agreed on core blocks that we thought we could manage, with the understanding that others outside this area could be invited.
  3. Invitations. We prepared flyers announcing the date and listing the planning committee members. We passed them out two weeks before the event, and then again on the day before the event. In addition, we spoke directly with as many neighbors as possible. This was important in beginning to engage more volunteers and build enthusiasm for the event. We also invited our councilmember, police officers and some other city workers who cover our block.
  4. Food & Supplies. We asked neighbors to bring something from one of the categories we identified or to ontribute between $10 and $20. Committee members also contributed funds. A few days before the event we determined the additional purchases to be made. Committee members donated much of this (plates, napkins, forks, cups etc.) and the rest was purchased from funds collected.
  5. Permits. To close off a street for a block party, you need to get a "Temporary Street Closing Permit" from the Emergency Management Agency (EMA), Reeves Center, 2000 14th Street, NW, 8th floor. You can pick up the form or download one from You'll need to get the signatures of at least 90% of the residents on the block to be closed. You should submit the request at least 15 working days before the event date. Upon notice of approval of application, pick up "Emergency No Parking" signs from EMA, 7th floor. Post the "Emergency No Parking " signs at least 72 hours prior to the event (and please don't nail signs to trees - use string).
  6. Music. We found out that we had two DJs on our block who could play a great variety of music to make sure everyone was connected to our event.
  7. Activities. We prepared a "getting to know you" game which, surprisingly, almost everyone, both young and old played - and enjoyed. It provided an easy way for people to approach others they didn't know to start a conversation. We also set up some activities for younger children, like chalk and jump rope.

Our Committee took responsibility to set up tables, welcome neighbors who showed up and introduce them around, and clean up. Some neighbors volunteered to grill, etc.

The turnout was excellent, everything came off without a hitch, and we even had more food than we could eat.

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