Summer’s here and a block party is a great excuse to get to know those neighbors who you only see traveling to and from work or taking out the trash. There are a few bureaucratic hoops to jump through with the city, but if you follow our advice, throwing your own block party should be a cinch.
Think of a block party as a potluck or barbecue-style event intended to attract only local residents who live on your street rather than a community event, like a street fair or farmers' market, which would attract people from beyond your immediate vicinity.
First, you need to determine the scope of your block party:
- Do you want to block off the street to traffic?
- Do you plan to have live or otherwise amplified music?
- Will your party have large structures such as a stage, merry-go-round, bounce house or the like?
Depending on what you want to do, take the following into consideration so there are no surprises along the way.
Pick a Date
Begin by polling your neighbors to find a good date and time that works for everybody. National Night Out is a natural choice because it always falls on the first Tuesday in August and the city waives certain application fees for parties planned on this eve.
Apply for the Necessary Permits
This is where the scope of your party matters and you have two basic options:
- Insurance Optional Application: If you want to close a single block (or up to four total) to traffic, the optional insurance street closure application means your street must simply be a residential street without bus routes, an intersection with traffic lights, or painted white travel lanes. While this permit doesn’t require that you show proof of insurance to apply, liability insurance is advised and many homeowners’ policies may offer coverage for your event or the city offers you an option as do some neighborhood coalitions. The cost of this application is $10 after July 1, 2013—it’s free until then.
- Insurance Required Application: If you want to close an intersection with a traffic signal or have painted white travel lanes on your street, you must fill out the insurance required application. The aforementioned homeowners insurance or city option may still cover your block party, you just need to show proof. Also, if you plan to have structures like a stage, mechanically-operated amusement devices, and inflatable structures in the street, this application is for you (and your corresponding insurance must cover these). Regardless, the proposed closure must still be a residential street and not one actively used as a bus route. The cost of this application is $15 after July 1, 2013—it’s free until then.
Completing either of these permits means you must physically take your street closure petition to all residents and businesses on your street and get their signatures, proving that you've notified everyone of your intention to close the street. You must account for every address on your street (note vacant houses) as well as properties and side yards adjacent to the closed street.
Once the application has been approved, the Portland Bureau of Transportation will send you a permit, which you should keep on-site for review during your event.
Note: You can still have structures (like a stage, bounce house, dunk tank, etc.) with the insurance optional application, but those elements must be completely contained on private property.
Lastly, if you want to throw a block party that involves closing an intersection for repair or painting, you can fill out the insurance optional application but the cost will be $15 after July 1, 2013.
Need a Noise Permit?
You do if you want to have amplified music at your block party. Fill out an application and be prepared to pay a fee (usually $58), which can increase if you apply less than two weeks before your event. But if you officially register your block party, this fee is waived on National Night Out—Tuesday, August 6 this year.
Other Benefits of National Night Out
In fact, the City of Portland extends a whole list of benefits if your registered community party happens between Friday, August 2 and Sunday, August 11, 2013. Besides waived application fees, the Office of Neighborhood Development will assist you with party planning and promotion, plus invite the Portland Police Bureau and Portland Fire & Rescue for the kiddos to check out their gear and vehicles—but you must register by July 23.
As the permit holder, you are responsible for providing six Type I barricades and street or road closed signs for each end of your street. The barricades must meet city specifications and be equipped with flashing lights after dusk. Contact your Neighborhood District Coalition Office for advice on where to rent as some suppliers offer block party packages (approximately $40-50), or search the Internet or yellow pages for “barricades” or “traffic flaggers.”
This is the easy (and fun) part, right?
Start talking with your neighbors about the food you’d like to serve and the equipment you might need (barbeque, tables, chairs, utensils, etc.) as well as what activities or games you’d like to plan—here are some ideas. Recruit helpers by going door to door or by leaving a flyer, which is a good way to publicize the party as well.
Party in the Park
If you’d rather host a party in your local park instead of shutting down your street, this is a different process that you can complete through Portland Parks & Recreation, and there is a National Night Out application for park parties as well.
Here are a few final things to keep in mind throughout your planning and partying process:
- Be sure to pick up an application at least three weeks in advance—many of the permits require two weeks for approval so give yourself an extra week to work with.
- Your event must end by 10 p.m. (or the time listed on your permit) with barricades and all cleared from the street.
- You cannot throw another event in the same location twice in one month.
- None of these permits allow you to serve or consume alcoholic beverages in public spaces. If you want to serve or consume alcohol, the block party application goes out the window and you must apply for a community event (and insurance costs increase substantially). This process is a little simpler if planning your party in a local park.
- Think about being sustainable: Here are some ideas to help you green up your block party.
If you have specific questions about your neighborhood, contact your Neighborhood District Coalition Office or call the city’s block party line at 503.823.4003 and the staff there can answer your questions.
And if you'd like to throw a larger event, the city has plenty of info on special events permits and the associated insurance required.