How to Plan a Chicago Block Party
Getting to know your neighbors isn’t just for the suburbs. Hundreds of Chicago residents band together over the summer to socialize and strengthen their community bonds at neighborhood block parties. If you’ve ever seen a residential street blocked off and flooded with people, fun, and music, you’ve caught a glimpse of a classic block party.
Some neighborhoods like Beverly and Morgan Park host hundreds of block parties per summer. If you are new to the neighborhood, chances are you’ll get an invite. Other neighborhoods, like Edison Park and the West Loop, have large, well-established block parties that attract people from all over the city. If your block hasn’t gotten in on the fun, you can spearhead the plans for a summertime event.
From permitting to getting your neighbors on board, here’s how to plan a neighborhood block party in Chicago.
Talking to Your Neighbors
We all have busy lives. It’s easy to fall into the “a quiet neighbor is a good neighbor” mindset. But, if you want to throw a block party, you’re going to have a break at least a little bit of that habitual silence.
If you live in a condo building, it will probably be easiest to start a conversation on the stairs or in the hallway. Ask your neighbors if they are interested in a block party; you could find someone who wants to help you with the planning process.
If you live in an unattached home, you likely see neighbors coming and going on the street. If you pass someone on the sidewalk, ask them if they have time to talk about the idea.
Check with your alderman’s office for any resources that may be helpful in getting the party off the ground. For example, the 44th ward has a block party petition that can be circulated to neighbors.
Starting the conversation may be a tough hurdle to overcome, but it is an important first step. Block parties need community involvement to get off the ground. Plus, this is a great way to be a good neighbor in Chicago. When you know your neighbors by name, tricky conversations—like ones about street parking in winter—can be a whole lot easier.
Getting a Permit
Once you have an idea of your neighbors’ interest levels and availability for a block party, you will need to secure a permit for the actual date. Permits allow residents to close streets for the purpose of block parties. That way you can party without having to worry about traffic.
Applying for and receiving a block party permit is free. Applicants fill out a simple request form and submit it through their alderman’s office. The permit will ultimately be issued by the Department of Transportation.
The permit will cover a single block, as long as that block is not a Federal Aid Urban Street or does not have a bus route. The permit will ensure the closure of the block for one day.
Make sure you plan ahead—the Department of Transportation will need to have the permit application a minimum of three days before the scheduled block party.
Successful block parties are a team effort, and the planning process can be as effective in getting to know your neighbors as the party itself. Once the party is a go, ask your neighbors to put their talents to use. Who is the weekend DJ? Who loves putting together game ideas?
Find a way to communally list the items you need for the party and allow neighbors to sign up and volunteer their time or property. You can also appeal to local businesses and organizations near or on the block to lend tables, chairs, and other party equipment.
If you know the block party is going be a big event for families with kids, you can put in another application with the City of Chicago. The city supplies inflatables for kids to bounce and play in during block parties. Residents can submit an application to receive an inflatable for four hours between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. during their block party.
Putting Together the Food
No block party is complete without good food. Typically, the best way to feed the neighborhood is by embracing a potluck style. Create a sign-up sheet for your neighbors to avoid too much overlap.
If you have neighbors who love an excuse for an outdoor cookout, consider setting up a grill station. You can collect small donations from each attending family to fund all of the brats and hotdogs (presumably without ketchup) that will be served up at the party.
For those blocks that feel like a little competition livens up the party, pick out a favorite side dish or dessert for everyone to bring. The partygoers can sample one another’s culinary creations and pick out their favorites.
A block party is all about being a good neighbor, which means cleaning up the street after you are done partying. Ask for volunteers to take down and return borrowed equipment. Draft kids and teens to gather up any stray trash.
Once you’ve thrown a successful block party, chances are you and your neighbors will look forward to it becoming a summertime tradition.