Rating the Suburbs 2013: Social Strategy

Make new friends and get to know your neighbors by organizing a block party using these great ideas.

Kathleen Wischmeier likes to share more than just a polite smile with her neighbors. For her, there's nothing that brings the community together like a good block party. "It's your one designated time each year to catch up with everyone on the street," the Rocky River resident explains. For the past two years, Wischmeier has been the co-chair of the Stratford Avenue block party, a 29-year-old neighborhood tradition. The event features competitive games, bands, an inflatable castle, a massive cookout and a movie at dusk projected onto a screen on a neighbor's garage. "It's a good way to settle the kids down, and it's a good way for the adults to clean up and relax from the energy of the day," Wischmeier says. She gives us advice on how to prep, host and enjoy an epic block party.

» GET A PERMIT. Some towns require documentation of your event, so call the city a few months in advance to let them know the date of your block party and fill out any required paperwork. "It's really important to get the street closed that day, so no cars can come through," Wischmeier says. In Rocky River, where you are required to have a permit if you are blocking off the street, police officers will deliver orange barrels and temporary partitions. "They just request you leave enough room for emergency trucks."

» MAKE IT WELCOMING. Don't assume everyone on the block already knows each other. "We always do name tags," says Wischmeier of the event, which draws about 100 residents. "We have a gentleman take a picture of everyone's house [which we put on the name-tag]. That way people can match the names to the house."

» GET COMPETITIVE. Wischmeier doesn't keep the spirited fun to just games. She heats things up with a potluck dinner. "We tell everyone they have to bring something to share," she says. To ensure diversity of options, she assigns one side of the street to desserts, the other to side dishes. "It's a big experimental time," she says. "If someone brings a new side dish no one's tried before, it always draws the most excitement."

Crowd Pleasers

Kathleen Wischmeier makes these dishes for her block party every year.

Pea and Bacon Salad
"This dish can be made ahead of time so you can set up for the block party and not worry about cooking."

1 16-ounce bag frozen peas
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Run hot water over the frozen peas for a few minutes, then drain well. Combine peas, green onion, celery, bacon and cheese in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir this mixture into the pea mixture and toss well. Chill for several hours and serve cold. Serves 6 to 8.

Hot Vidalia Onion Dip
"I serve it with torilla chips. It also can be served with any sturdy chip or bagel chip. It's always a hit."

2 cups chopped Vidalia onions
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together and bake for 30 minutes or until bubbling and browned. Serves 20.

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