The concept of the neighborhood block party was born from the diverse boroughs of New York City during the early 20th century. Since then, communities have embraced the concept and used it as an opportunity to socialize and meet other members of the community. However, the neighborhood block party, along with the other established social rituals of American life—such as church, homeowners’ or PTA meetings—are in decline.
Robert Putnam, in his groundbreaking non-fiction book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” examines the decline of social capital in the US since 1950. Published in 2000, the book talks about the decrease of in-personal and social interactions within American society.
The State of the Neighborhood
In the book, Putnam dissects the social characteristics that contributed to the weakening of the “we” and the rise of the “I”. Diminished social interactions and weakened social bonds are more noticeable today. Generational differences, pressures of time and money, mobility and sprawl, and television have contributed to this phenomenon, as identified by Putnam.
One out of three Americans say that they have never interacted with their neighbors. Only 20% of Americans report spending time with the people living next door. Between the hectic work week and equally frantic weekend schedules, there is very little opportunity for neighbors to interact.
About 85% of Americans today drive alone in private automobiles while the number of public transport commuters has decreased to 5% from 12% in 1960. Moreover, recreation for most Americans has changed. Instead of face to face interactions, most people spend their downtime online or watching television. Social media and technology are supposed to help people make meaningful connections, but are ironically making them feel more isolated.
It is proven time and again that societies can achieve more through social cohesion. Through connections strengthened by trust, reciprocity, and solidarity, collective problems are much easier to resolve. Therefore, societies should invest more in nurturing the communal spirit. Likewise, people should get out of their shell and start meeting their neighbors.
6 Reasons to Throw a Neighborhood Block Party
Neighborhood block parties are a great way to get to know your neighbors and build meaningful and beneficial relationships. Besides meeting the members of your community, here are 6 perks of throwing a neighborhood block party:
- Fosters a strong and safe community. Knowing the members of the neighborhood beyond their names and addresses makes it natural for members to look after each other’s safety. This helps promote a stronger, safer, and more personal community.
- Strengthens and reinforces social bonds. Social cohesion improves with frequent interactions. A more personal interface allows members to discover the interests and hobbies that they share with the other members of the group.
- Can start a trend and create a tradition. Oftentimes, communal activities just need a little nudge to start. Before you know it, other families in the neighborhood are taking turns throwing block parties. The events can become annual staples families look forward to attending.
- Provides support to newcomers. New neighbors need support in order to adjust to the new environment. Block parties are the perfect opportunity for newcomers to meet the members of the community.
- Builds trust. Throwing a block party gives neighbors more incentive to trust each other. Events like this can be a good venue for neighbors to share recipes, tips, and other valuable information. This is because a fun and relaxed atmosphere primes people to be more willing in letting others in.
- Encourages fun and happiness. One can be creative when planning block parties. It could be as simple as grilling and dining al fresco, or more elaborate with themes or competitions. But one thing is for sure, block parties are downright fun.
How to Host a Neighborhood Block Party
Here are a few quick tips to remember when hosting a neighborhood block party.
- Start by inviting neighbors to plan the event with you. Inviting others to plan and throw the party with you is a good way of creating a larger and more formal turnout. Planning the event with others can also help pool the resources. The next door neighbor may have an extra cooler to lend for the drinks.
- The next step is getting the word out. Prepare an invite or printable flyer with the details of the event and distribute it door to door. Personally inviting neighbors is the best way to get a bigger turnout. Inviting neighbors over the phone can also do the trick. Leaving an invite at a neighbor’s front door or in the mailbox should be the last resort. If possible, do a follow-up phone call to make the invite more personal. Lastly, use the community message board to post about the block party.
- Food and drinks can be arranged as a potluck. Attendees can contribute by bringing food or drink for sharing. Include a potluck signup form with the invitation. This way participants can claim a specific item to bring on the event day. If you decide to prepare the party’s food and drinks, let the guest know about the arrangement and cost.
- Prepare games and activities to cater to kids. Provide jump ropes, hula hoops, soccer balls for active kids. Set aside an area for kids who prefer jigsaw puzzles, clay models and drawing materials. Prepare board or group games to keep everyone engaged.
- Arrange a sitting area where adults can mingle and relax. Help keep the atmosphere relaxed by setting up music through a stereo or speaker system. Consider closing an area of the street (using proper barricades) to provide more space and safe play.
- Take photos of the event. Encourage attendees to share their pictures with everyone. Make sharing of photos easier by sharing the social page and/or creating your own hashtags.
Beyond the walls and fences of our homes are meaningful connections waiting to unfold. As members of a community, we need to create more opportunities for personal interactions to happen. Move beyond the obligatory greeting and hellos. It’s time for you to throw that fabulous block party.