In an effort to get more people to throw block parties, Cambridge officials have made an enticing new offer: Plan one in your neighborhood, and the city will pick up the tab for the supplies.
Officials announced this month that the city will give $200 to residents who apply for — and are granted — a permit to turn their street into a car-free, public space where neighbors can mingle over music, family-friendly activities, and snacks.
How residents spend the money is entirely up to them. It can be be used for food, decorations, entertainment, promotional fliers, or any other goodies that might fuel a successful neighborhood get-together.
“We are encouraging recipients of the funding to incorporate a creative activity but the possibilities are endless,” said Sandra Clarke, deputy director of the city’s Community Development Department, in an email. “Recipients could use the funding to buy sidewalk chalk and other craft supplies, order pizzas or some delicious samosas, and maybe invite a spoken-word poet or even better, a magician.”
There are a limited number of $200 grants available, but Clarke said officials “will secure additional funding” if there is high demand for the program.
The funds supplement the resources that are already available through the city’s Play Streets program, which lets people borrow kits that contain play equipment like basketball hoops, jump ropes, giant Jenga pieces, stilts, and gear for street hockey games or tether tennis matches. As part of that program, city staff deliver, set up, and then collect the equipment — all for free.
Last year, the city issued 43 permits for neighborhood block parties, 15 of which included Play Streets equipment.
To make hosting the events easier this year, the city is also waiving its $25 block party permit application fee, and relaxing a number of restrictions on the events.
Applicants will now only need to collect signatures from 25 percent of households on their block in order to be granted a permit, down from 75 percent.
Parties can also be booked with just 14 days notice, down from a prior 30-day requirement, and hosts can get permits for recurring parties, like those held on the first Sunday of every month, all at once.
Officials hope these changes, along with the $200 offer, will boost the city’s block party culture, and help Cambridge residents form lasting bonds with their neighbors in the process.
“I’ve spoken to friends who live in Cambridge who have lived there for years and haven’t had a lot of time to meet their neighbors,” said Brooke McKenna, the city’s transportation commissioner. “Then they got involved in the planning of a block party and it really made them part of the neighborhood in a way that doesn’t happen when you’re not engaging socially with folks. I think that’s a really positive thing.”