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Guest Editorial: Don’t Charge Big Bucks for Block Parties

10:20 AM PDT on July 21, 2016

Block parties enrich neighborhoods. So why not encourage them? Photo: Adam Greenfield.
Block parties (1400 block of 12th Avenue in SF seen here) enrich neighborhoods. So why not encourage them? Photo: Adam Greenfield.

Block parties change lives.

When neighbors reclaim their street for a day and turn it into a car-free social space, all types of folks come out. Children run freely and neighbors who have been strangers for 20 years meet at last. Culture changes in an instant: Streets become safer, social ties strengthen, neighbors are happier and healthier.

Given these benefits, you’d think local authorities would be falling over themselves to encourage block parties. And many cities are. Hats off to Seattle for this statement on its Block Party Application webpage: “Block party permits are completely free for applicants… in an effort to strengthen neighborhood spirit and support increased pedestrian use of the right of way.”

Unfortunately, many American cities are not so sympathetic. Recently, I conducted a survey of every American city with a population of over 300,000. I discovered that some cities are charging up the wazoo for neighbors to organize block parties. The biggest humbug is Austin which charges $558. Bear in mind that the most common permit cost is $0 and the median cost is $20.

Embarrassingly, my own city of San Francisco charges $167, the nation’s fourth highest fee.

Here are the top five:

Block Party/Street Event Permit Costs

    • 1. Austin, TX $558
    • 2. Los Angeles, CA $312
    • 3. Corpus Christi, TX $170
    • 4. San Francisco, CA $167
    • 5. San Jose CA $152

For a longer, more detailed list download the raw data.

Block parties encourage neighbors to meet. Photo: Adam Greenfield
Block parties encourage neighbors to meet. Photo: Adam Greenfield

Apart from permit costs, there are numerous other common issues in the application process:

    1. It’s often difficult to locate online information and forms about applying for a block party
    2. Many cities require the renting of barricades, which can be expensive
    3. Application information and forms are often long-winded and confusing; I had to make phone calls for many cities
    4. Some cities have onerous requirements for demonstrating residents’ support for a block party; for instance, Dallas requires 100 percent of residents to support a block party
    5. Application deadlines range from a few days to several months before the event

So, in addition to reducing or eliminating permit costs, many cities need to improve their block party application process. And they should. Those who organize block parties are doing a service to their neighbors and to society. They should be thanked and encouraged for doing so.

Tell us what you think. Have you ever organized a block party? Do you think they cause long-term change/more community involvement in a neighborhood? Comment below.

Block parties and other open streets events can bring long-term neighborhood change. So make them cheap to set up! Photo: Streetsblog.
Block parties and other open streets events (such as Sunday Streets Tenderloin, seen here) can bring long-term neighborhood change. So make them cheap to set up! Photo: Streetsblog.

Adam Greenfield is a community organizer and public-space advocate based in San Francisco, California. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, The Plaza Perspective.

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