With Labor Day just ahead, Philly makes block-party permit seekers work harder

Philly loves a good block party.

Neighbors turn out for a recent Tacony Creek block party. (Photo courtesy of TTF Watershed Partnership)

Neighbors turn out for a recent Tacony Creek block party. (Photo courtesy of TTF Watershed Partnership)

Philly loves a good block party.

Philadelphia is the block-party capital of America, holding more of them than any other peer city, according to a 2013 Philadelphia City Paper article. The city throws close to 6,000 street soirées a year, thanks to what was a relatively cheap and easy permit process: All you needed was a completed one-page application, the $25 fee, and the signatures of 75 percent of your neighbors.

Starting Aug. 1, though, the regulatory road to reveling got a little more bumpy: Applicants must now seek pre-authorization for block parties from their local police districts. The change adds another half-page of bureaucracy to the application process, which can still be completed entirely online. (Applicants can submit petitions electronically by scanning them or taking pictures of them.)

So far this year, the city has issued 3,166 block-party permits. Another few hundred will likely be issued for the coming Labor Day weekend. A PlanPhilly analysis of permits issued between 2006 and 2016 suggested that Labor Day was the second most popular holiday for block parties. (Independence Day was first).

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Some fear the additional form will put a cramp in block parties. Philadelphia 3.0, a political action committee that has focused on reforming the city’s Democratic Party machine, launched a petition urging Mayor Jim Kenney to revoke the police pre-approval requirement.

Patrick Iffrig, a supervisor in the Streets Department’s right-of-way unit, said the added red tape up front was necessary to help prevent party pooping by the police later on.

Before, the Streets Department would issue a permit and then notify the local police district of the upcoming road closure. “Police were identifying blocks that were problem blocks in their neighborhood, and they ended up rescinding some of the applications we had already approved.”

A few hundred times a year, the police would revoke a block-party permit when they believed it could become a target of violence. That sudden reversal “was unfair to people who came to a block party, and kind of set up everything, and ordered their food, ordered their bouncy house… that they had to cancel,” Iffrig said.

The new permitting requirements went into effect Aug. 1 and were only announced that afternoon. Iffrig apologized for the sudden rule change, saying a notice was supposed to go out earlier. “That is very short notice. It’s short notice for our staff here, and it’s extremely short notice for people having parties out in the street.”

The practical impact on block-party organizers should be minimal, though, Iffrig said. Even though the new police paperwork is called a “pre-authorization” form, permit-seekers who have already collected signatures do not need to start over. They can simply drop off a pre-approval form at their district police station, or continue to follow the online permit process.

As long as the local precinct gives approval for the upcoming asphalt affair, Streets will issue a permit.

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