The Heart of Lincoln Square Neighbors Association compiled these ideas to help you build a sense of community among neighbors. Suggestions range well beyond the traditional block party, from the relatively simple to the more ambitious.
We’d love to hear your ideas, too.
If you’ve tried any of these and have feedback, or have more inspiration to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll add it to this list.
Throw Traditional Block Party
You must get a block party permit from the city. Information is available here.
Additional information via the 47th ward office: http://chicago47.org/block-parties/
There is literally nothing to it. There is a form you fill out and drop off at the alderman’s office. Once you have confirmation from the alderman’s office, put flyers up at all the neighbor’s houses/apts a week-10 days before the block party. That’s it. Close off the street with a few cars the day of the party. If your block has not had a party in recent years, you might need to petition your neighbors for approval. Check with the alderman’s office.
Organize Porch Drinks
Different houses host drinks and snacks on the porch each week. The house provides some snacks and then it’s BYOB. Kids run around with older kids in charge and the adults catch up. Less effort than a big meal.
Create a Facebook Group for the Block
I printed up a bunch of slips of paper with a couple sentences of explanation and the name of the private Facebook group, encouraging people to join. My then 4-year-old and I went door-to-door last year and stuck them through mail slots. We’ve now got a couple dozen neighbors in the group who post mostly about municipal concerns like construction trucks blocking the alley, a dangerous intersection and testing water for lead.
Build a Neighborhood Directory of Phone Numbers and Emails
We have a block “leader” who maintains a contact list. He or she sends email updates now and then, including information about the annual block party.
Say hello and ask them how they are doing.
The best way to develop community is to be a community. Reach out. Be in each other’s houses. Watch each other’s kids. Borrow eggs. Make a new neighbor a pie. Bring over the Sunday Times and offer a section. Sit out front more than out back. Pay the kids’ to move mulch and snow. I do not know what I would do without my village.
Hold a Dessert Pot Luck
Held once a month on front lawns and sidewalks. You can even arrange for a paletas bicycle vendor to come and pitch in to buy each child an ice cream.
Host a Rotating Weekly/Monthly Pizza Party
Dinner starts at 5:30 PM on Fridays, come anytime after that. Host gets info by noon on Friday via email on pizza preferences and number of eaters. Host sets up tables and has plates, cups, plasticware, napkins, coolers and a wastebasket. BYOB. We make a decision by 3 PM on whether it needs to be canceled for weather.
To cover pizzas, toppings, tax, and tip, we suggest the following:
* $7.50 for adults or kids with big appetites
* $5.00 for kids with moderate appetites
* 0 for kids 3 and under
Create a Soup Exchange
We did a soup exchange on our few block radius with 4 families. Sunday we would bring around soup and maybe some fresh bread to the other families. Cold soups in the summer, warm and yummy soups in the winter. We’d load up the kid’s wagon and walk around.
Ask for Help
Ask for help! Sugar, an hour watching your kid, a random tool you don’t want to buy...these favors build relationships! And then return the favor, of course.
Gather in the Parkway
We have “the benches” where we all gather for dinner and happy hours. They are on the parkway in the middle of the block. We sometimes plan it via email but mostly just wander outside and others appear.
Grow a Community Herb Garden
There are several perennial herbs hardy to this region (5b).
My neighbors grow them in the alley and share with neighbors. In our alley, it’s very informal with the gardeners simply encouraging neighbors to help themselves.
You could also:
- Create a sign that neighbors could print, laminate and post in their gardens that says something like “community herb garden, please take a snip!”
(Download our HOLS Herb Garden Sign!)
- Leave an inexpensive pair of garden snips attached to a piece of twine or in a ziplock bag to aid in the cutting.
- Label the plants, especially for less-common herbs.
Have a Solstice Gathering
We set out a pot-luck (no nuts) everyone is invited (except for dogs) via a little email newsletter. We sit in a circle, (everyone brings their own chair). We introduce ourselves, where we live and speak a bit about what’s going on in our lives, etc. It’s really very informal and inclusive to all.
Create a Committee
We have a social chair and committee. We do things like a fishing derby, Easter egg hunt, progressive dinner party, card party, etc. every year.
Host Progressive Dinners
One house serves appetizers, one serves mains, one serves desserts. All serve drinks! If anyone isn’t comfortable hosting they can still attend and just contribute to the food.
Host a Playdate
We have a parents’ group that hosts monthly playdates at the library, a local coffee shop or at the playground.
Host or Attend a Front Porch Concert
Create a Kids Club
We started a kids club with 8 boys – we alternate which family hosts. It is like boy scouts without any badges or formal policies. Also no Pinterest or catering. But every weekend there is a block of time where the boys are invited somewhere for something.
Host a Fundraiser
If you have a block party, tie it into a fundraiser for your neighborhood school and involve the school as well. (A very kind and generous neighbor just did this at our school-- he doesn’t have kids, but has been a big booster and it brings both the people who live there & the people who might not, but are in the community regularly together, plus raised a little $$).
Have Regular Events
At Halloween we host a chili cook-off contest. At Easter we do a block-wide egg hunt. We are planning a random devils egg competition as well. Traditions are important to community!
Set Up a Little Free Library
My boys love getting books to read and putting books in the Free Library. I’ve often thought that I’d love to add a writing component. Nothing too formal just a little book recommendation or something. Maybe just putting a journal inside for others to sign and add notes.
Set Up a Little Free Pantry
The church at the end of our street has one - it’s just like the free libraries, but for food. It doesn’t prompt any real interaction with neighbors since we don’t linger there when we add food. But it does create a sense of block pride when we see it nicely stocked. Plus it’s a nice way to teach our kids about caring for others in the community, even if you’re not there to hear a thank you.
Organize a Halloween Gathering
We have a pizza party before kids go trick-or-treating.
Host a Backyard or Indoor Movie Night in the Summer
Set up a backyard screen and put out blankets, chairs, beanbags...let the kids sit and watch the movie while adults mingle. Provide popcorn and candy or BYO.
Create a Tool/Equipment-Sharing Spreadsheet
Develop a spreadsheet with a list of tools or equipment that each neighbor owns. Focus on things that others might want to borrow like card tables, folding chairs, a power washer, saw, steam cleaner...
Start a Neighborhood Book Club
This could be done for the adults on the block or for kids if you have a bunch in the same age range. Different houses can host each month to get together and discuss the book, eat and drink.
Hold a Block-Wide Yard Sale
Pick a date and everyone puts out their yard sale items on that date. Advertise the sale around the neighborhood. Or designate one house and all bring yard sale items to that house and take turns staffing the sale throughout the day. Put different colored stickers on the items so you know which house the items belong to and keep a tally of how much is sold for each house.
Set Up a Community Basketball Hoop
Put a basketball hoop in a safe part of the street or alley and leave a few basketballs out all of the time so kids/adults can play.
Hold a Lemonade Stand for a Cause
Get the kids out together and set up a lemonade/bake sale for a good cause. One that we have worked with in the past is Alex’s Lemonade Stand for childhood cancer.
Host Aldermanic Candidates
Invite an aldermanic candidate to one house and ask neighbors to come hear him/her speak. Host a bunch of different candidates over the course of the race so a variety of perspectives are represented.
Welcome New People to the Block
The social committee sends out an email with a Sign Up Genius with things like flowers, dessert, jam...and then people drop off the items at one house and someone puts them all together in a basket to be delivered to the new neighbors.
Create a Babysitting/Chores List/Network
Put together a list of all of the teenagers on the block who are interested in babysitting or other chores like mowing lawns, watering gardens, pet sitting...
Celebrate National Good Neighbor Day on September 28
National Good Neighbor Day promotes neighborliness and niceness towards people who surround us. On September 28, be a good neighbor by getting to know the families that live on your block. Bake cookies, invite them over for dinner, or offer to mow their lawn — anything that helps build a stronger sense of community on your block!
Do Some Prep Work
If you’re starting from scratch with a block that isn’t very active ask yourself what is unique about your block? What do you love about your block? What do you hate about your block? Jot these down. This might provide some ideas to get organized around.
Invest in Some Simple and Cheap Tools
Sidewalk chalk, bubbles, balloons, a kiddie pool, a card table and umbrella. These can all be revolutionary for designating a gathering space and making connections. Remember that people like something to gather around because it feels less awkward.
Make an X to Mark the Spot
Take advantage of the many great events in the neighborhood: Farmers markets, concerts, etc. Use chalk to make an “X marks the spot” on your block. Then write: “Meet me here to go to the……” concert, market, etc. Maybe add in a potluck picnic.
Don’t Forget About the Alley
Open up your garages, have a progressive garage sale/pizza party/marshmallow roast/basketball in the alley. This may lead to neighbors sharing tools. After all does every house really need a leaf blower, or a lawn mower, etc.
Use Name Tags
Inspired by artist Candy Chang, who puts name tags on derelict buildings or vacant lots. Instead of saying “my name is” her name tags read “I wish this were a” and asks people to write their aspirations for the site on a nametag. You can create this with name tags for your block. Leave name tags or chalk in a Tupperware container and leave it out so you people can write things on their own time. You can also leave sidewalk chalk in a covered Tupperware to protect it from the rain for passersby to write down their ideas. Ask people what they want for their block.
Play Some Music
Do you play anything? Do your neighbors? Have an impromptu concert or even a talent show on your block.
Create a Gentle Competition
Best Halloween door or prettiest hopscotch game. Or give each neighbor/family a sidewalk square to decorate by a set time on a Saturday afternoon. Then gather the block for an art walk.
Investigate Outside Resources on Tactical Urbanism
Chicago Department Of Transportation. This is good if you live on an arterial street with paid parking. Make Way for People program is where you can get a low-cost permit to do tactical urbanism interventions like taking over a parking space.
Lots of free resources on tactical urbanism and recipes for things like bocce ball courts or activating a vacant lot.
Congress for the New Urbanism CNU Illinois
Cnu.org or cnuil.org