“Our block party changed everything on our street”
– Block resident, San Francisco

Block party group photo updt

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, 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.”

You’re awesome, Seattle.

North Seattle block party

Go Seattle!

Unfortunately, many other American cities aren’t 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 my findings:

The 5 Most Expensive Cities

City State Permit cost ($)
1. Austin * TX 558
2. Los Angeles CA 312
3. Corpus Christi TX 170
4. San Francisco **
CA 167
5. San Jose CA 152


* Austin doesn’t technically offer a block party permit, the only major American city not to do so, although they claim to be working on a permit. Instead, applicants have to apply for a Special Events permit (ie. the same status as a major public event), which costs a minimum of $558 + $2,000 refundable security deposit.
** This rate was changed on 7/1/2016 and is reflected above.

The Rest Of The Cities

City State Permit cost ($)
6. Santa Ana CA 140
7. New Orleans LA 130
8= Atlanta GA 100
8= Long Beach CA 100
8= Oakland CA 100
8= San Antonio TX 100
8= Oklahoma City OK 100
13. Anchorage AK 90
14. Columbus OH 75
15. El Paso TX 65.60
16. Houston TX 55.04
17= Stockton CA 55
17= Washington DC 55
19= Baltimore MD 50
19= Memphis TN 50
19= Raleigh NC 50
19= Tampa FL 50
19= Virginia Beach VA 50
24. Louisville KY 40
25. Arlington TX 34
26. Nashville TN 30
27. New York City NY 25.62
28= Minneapolis MN 25
28= Philadelphia PA 25
28= Pittsburgh PA 25
28= Riverside CA 25
32= Sacramento CA 25
32= Cleveland OH 20
33. St Louis MO 20
35= Fresno CA 10
City State Permit cost ($)
35= Portland OR 10
37= Albuquerque NM 0
37= Anaheim CA 0
37= Aurora CO 0
37= Boston MA 0
37= Charlotte NC 0
37= Chicago IL 0
37= Colorado Springs CO 0
37= Dallas TX 0
37= Denver CO 0
37= Detroit MI 0
37= Fort Worth TX 0
37= Honolulu HI 0
37= Indianapolis IN 0
37= Jacksonville FL 0
37= Kansas City MO 0
37= Las Vegas NV 0
37= Lexington KY 0
37= Mesa AK 0
37= Miami FL 0
37= Milwaukee WI 0
37= Omaha NE 0
37= Phoenix AZ 0
37= San Diego CA 0
37= Seattle WA 0
37= Tucson AZ 0
37= Tulsa OK 0
37= Wichita KS 0

Download the raw data here.

Aurora Colorado block party

Aurora, Colorado. Another great town that encourages block parties.

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% 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 application 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.