May 16, 2023

To Build Stronger, Closer Neighborhoods, Cambridge Makes It Easier To Host Block Parties

Block Parties

It is now easier and cheaper to host block parties in Cambridge. The City of Cambridge is eliminating the block party permit fee, providing free party games, and offering $200 cash awards (limited supply) to support celebrations.

Block parties are outdoor gatherings hosted by neighbors or community organizations for everyone who lives on the street.

City staff from the Cambridge Public Health Department, Community Development Department’s Arts and Cultural Planning and Play Streets programs, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, and Cambridge Arts, with support from the City Council, teamed up this spring to promote block parties to residents, especially those who haven’t hosted or attended one in the past.

To encourage more residents to host block parties this year, the City is:

  • Eliminating the $25 block party permit fee. 
  • Changing the signature requirement:  Applicants now only need to collect signatures in support of the party from 25% of households on the block (previously it was 75%).
  • Offering $200 cash awards to reduce party costs (limited supply).
  • Shortening the approval process: Applications only need to be submitted 14 days in advance of the party (previously it was 30 days).
  • Making it easier for residents to host a series of block parties: Residents can now apply just once for block parties on multiple dates (such as the first Sunday of each month).
  • Offering free games and activities through the Play Streets program. 

“Block parties help Cambridge residents see their neighborhood streets as the public spaces they are,” said Transportation Commissioner Brooke McKenna, who oversees the City’s Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department. “To encourage more residents to host block parties, our department eliminated the permit fee and simplified the application process.”

Through the Play Streets program, block party hosts can turn their street into a playground by borrowing a kit of pop-up play items, which can include equipment for climbing and bouncing, cornhole, giant Jenga, a parachute, jump ropes, basketball hoops, street hockey, tether tennis, stilts, and other activities.

“Play Streets demonstrate the potential to imaginatively make use of our streets which form the largest category of open space in Cambridge,” said Iram Farooq, Assistant City Manager for Community Development. “When a street becomes a playful and sociable place, it brings delight while strengthening social bonds.”

“Block party potlucks and games bring neighbors together for fun, but the parties also help build more connected, resilient neighborhoods,” said Nancy Porter, director of Equity, Resilience and Preparedness at the Cambridge Public Health Department.

Porter noted that in communities where social ties are strong, residents are better able to handle adversity, such as damaging storms or illness. “We want neighbors to become friendly with each other in good times, so they can be there for each other when the pipes burst or there’s a major emergency.”

Social networks and connectedness are critical factors in determining a community’s ability to withstand or recover from disaster, according to a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. This is why building closer neighborhoods is a core strategy of  Resilient Cambridge, the city’s roadmap for reducing risk from climate change and preparing for its inevitable impacts. 

“As an organization that hosts community events like the River Festival, Summer in the City, and Open Studios, we’re excited to help make hosting block parties easier—and more fun—because we know that our streets and public spaces are great places for us to come together, share our creativity and traditions, and celebrate the potential in the rich diversity of our community,” said Cambridge Arts Executive Director Jason Weeks.

For the first time, the City of Cambridge is offering $200 cash awards to party hosts, with funding provided by the Cambridge Public Health Department, the city’s Art & Cultural Planning program, and Cambridge Arts. The awards can be used for anything connected to the party, such as food or entertainment. A limited number of awards are available.

“Music, art, and storytelling bring neighbors together and bridge cultural barriers. We hope that the hosts who receive funding will consider including an arts activity at their party,” said Claudia Zarazua, director of Arts & Cultural Planning for the city. “Your activity could be as simple as sidewalk chalk murals or your uncle playing guitar.” 

More Information

Everything you need to know about hosting a street celebration is on the City’s Block Party web page.