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BLOCK PARTY CHALLENGE FAQs

Join the Block Party Coordination Planning Group Email List here: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/somervilleblockpartychallenge 

What’s the Block Party 2018 Challenge? Our goal is to have as many block parties as possible throughout the community! Why are block parties so great for our community? Getting to know your neighbor has many benefits: It’s fun to be friends with people who live within shouting distance. No need to travel across town to find someone to share a chat, playdate, or evening glass of wine – just lean out the window to invite them over. Also, when you know your neighbors, you can talk together about what drives you crazy or dream up ideas for improving your neighborhood. Finally, if people better understand their neighbors’ concerns, it’ll be easier to make the hard decisions together as a community.

What is our goal? We had 36 resident-organized block parties in the spring/summer/fall of 2017, and this year we hope to top 100!

What are the prizes? The prize is…. Having a stronger/more fun community! And if that sounds too intangible, note that we’ll give out awards for the ward with the biggest increase in block parties, the most block parties, the smallest block party (two people on lawn chairs with a bag of chips!), the biggest block party, the craziest entertainment, and anything else we can dream up. The At-Large BOA representatives, who are sponsoring this challenge with our ward aldermen colleagues, will shovel some sidewalks for the winning ward. Also, if Ward 2 has the most block parties this summer, I (Stephanie) have agreed to dye my hair whatever color Alderman JT Scott chooses!

What’s the first step in planning a block party? Find a neighbor or roommate who wants to co-host (or host on your own!) If you are worried no one will come, let me know, and I’ll plan to join you to keep you company. You will need to pick a date and a rain date for the application.

How do I get permission from the City to close a block? Once you have a date, submit a Public Event License application from the City to block the street. There’s no charge for the license. You’ll find the application on the city’s website, at http://www.somervillema.gov/citizenserve. Click on the CitizenServe logo, then “Learn More About Licensing.” Look for the “Submittal Requirements” for Public Events and follow the instructions carefully. Contact City Clerk John Long if you have any questions (617) 625-6600  ext 4110, jlong@somervillema.gov. Don’t be intimidated by the application – it’s the same one used for much more complicated licenses, but virtually all block parties get approved. Please be sure to pick a rain date. If you don't and your event gets rained out, you'll need to submit a new application.

How do I answer these questions: “Does this event include alcohol service?”Will food be served? For a typical block party, attendees may serve food potluck-style without a license, as long as common sense is used with respect to food safety (don’t leave perishables out more than two hours, make sure meat is thoroughly cooked, etc.). Attendees may drink alcohol on private property, like front steps and driveways. Be sure to specific in your application that food will be potluck and alcohol will only be consumed on private property (yards and driveways) – you will NOT be selling food or alcohol. If you do want to sell food or alcohol, contact City Clerk John Long well in advance, because there is a separate, lengthy licensing process for these activities.

Are there deadlines for submitting the public event license application? Yes! There are timeframes for getting the licenses processed. Public events are approved at each Board of Aldermen meeting, and it takes a few days for department heads to sign off before each meeting. We have meetings on Sept 27, Oct 11, and Oct. 23. Block parties need to have sign-offs by the Friday before each meeting (and the Wednesday before Oct. 23), so Sept 21, Oct. 5, and Oct. 16. There is a way to get a last-minute license, but it’s trickier for all involved and may not work out, so if you can submit it several weeks before the event, that’s best. The license application is accessible here: http://www.somervillema.gov/citizenserve.

Do private ways need to get a license? Technically, no. However, the BOA and City recommends that private ways apply for a license in the same way a regular street would. The Fire Department needs to know when an event is happening. They will want to make sure there are no movable barriers on the street, and that any charcoal/gas grills are managed safely (away from kids, with a fire extinguisher present), and the Police Department needs advance notification as well. Thus, submitting the license online will address all of those issues. Public Works will also set up barriers for licensed private way block parties.

What should we do if we need to switch to the rain date? If your rain date is on the same weekend (e.g. switching from Saturday to Sunday), try to hold onto the barriers. DPW will try to arrange to leave the barriers if it is raining on a Saturday. If your rain date is a later weekend, call 311 during the weekday hours so that DPW knows where/when to drop off barriers for the rain date. During weekend hours, 311 is staffed by an off-site call service, so it's harder for them to communicate real-time with City staff, except for the most urgent cases (though we may be able to work this out in the future). 

What if DPW doesn’t drop off the barriers in time? Residents can call 311. The head of Public Works, Stan Koty, also said people can call him directly at 617-590-1405.

Is there a way for residents to get a temporary no parking sign in advance of a block party, and is that a good idea? The head of Traffic and Parking notes that a “no parking” sign may be purchased at Traffic and Parking. The cost is $5/sign and the sign must be posted 48 hours in advance of the event. That said, City staff have mentioned that over the years that they have handled block party licenses, requiring neighbors to move cars has sometimes created some friction which has made block parties less popular. An option is to move just a few cars to create an open area. 

Can we invite a food truck to come? Yes, but it does require several steps. The food truck must be specifically identified in the Public Event application, and the food truck must apply for a Temporary Health License within a week of the submission of the application. (If the food truck hasn’t applied in a timely manner, then it won’t be included in the license, and the food truck won’t be allowed to operate. This condition is necessary to allow enough time for ISD’s Health Division to do its job of vetting the truck and insuring the safety of food served to the public in the city).

How do I involve neighbors? Drop off a simple flier for neighbors at each house (federal law prohibits putting fliers in mailboxes, but you can put them in each door.) Hang up fliers around the neighborhood. Call and email. Going door-to-door with the invitations adds a personal touch that will help you get more people interested in volunteering for and attending the event. Keep the invitation simple, and remember to include at least one contact name and phone number, so neighbors can get in touch with someone if necessary. Distribute a short reminder notice one week before the block party to confirm to everyone that it’s still happening.

Who should be invited? It’s up to you! Invite just your block, neighboring blocks, the whole neighborhood, or the whole city! We can help advertise it if you let us know the date.

What happens on the day of? The Department of Public Works will drop off a “street closed” barrier on the day of your event. If for some reason they don’t drop off the barriers, call 311 or DPW (see above) or block your street off with your own lawn chairs, as long as you have the license. You will need to let cars go in and out of their driveways, of course, so you may have to move the barriers at certain points (so place your tables, etc. strategically).

What other suggestions do you have? If you want to start small/manageable, block off the smallest section of the street that still works for your gathering. This allows you to inconvenience the fewest people, and thus makes it less stressful to have the “perfect” party.

How about food? As mentioned above, have the block party as a potluck so you can get a license easily. The hosts can bring plates, napkins, forks, and a folding table. Ask a neighbor to roll out a grill. A good line for an invitation is: “Bring food to grill for your family and a dish to share.” If you want to be more ambitious, you could hold something like a chili cook-off or a cookie contest, and have kids award prizes to their favorites, but you can always try that in a future year once you graduate to “advanced” block partying!

How about activities? Some established block parties do cool things, like bouncy houses or a clown. However, even just sitting in a circle with lawn chairs is perfect. Kids love being able to actually ride their bike or scooter on the block, and may go in and out of houses. I always bring out some toys from my house and put them on a blanket for the younger kids. The Fire Department requires that if you do set up a large object, like a bouncy house, that you leave at least 12 feet of clearance on the street, so a fire truck or ambulance can get by when necessary.

Can I hold a block party in a park instead? Some blocks may not work for block parties. You can also have a party in a park! This will still require a Public Event license, just like a block party on a street.

More questions? Contact City Clerk John Long for more information (617) 625-6600  ext 4110, jlong@somervillema.gov), your ward alderman, or Stephanie Hirsch (617-512-4847, stephanie@stephaniehirsch.org)

 

HAVE FUN AND SEE YOU ON THE BLOCK!!