Though anecdotal evidence may suggest otherwise, the funnel-cake and five-buck-pashmina hawkers at those ubiquitous weekend street fairs aren’t the only people allowed to shut down city thoroughfares. Last year, the Mayor’s Street Activity Permit Office licensed 2,274 block parties, while the Department of Parks and Recreation handed out more than 16,000 permits for special events in public parks. The catch? You have to jump through a few bureaucratic hoops—including an avalanche of paperwork. Here, a step-by-step playbook to navigating the whole process.
Scouting the Location
How to secure a prime street, park, or private outdoor space for your shindig.
Party on Your Block:
The most important thing to remember when applying for a block-party permit: You have to submit your application at least 90 days in advance of the event. Filing a request isn’t pricey; you’ll pay just a $25.75 processing fee, plus the cost of any additional permits called for by your specific party plans.
The application process: While it varies by community board, you’ll always start it by filling out a form, providing information about yourself, the event date and time (a permit can close a street for up to nine hours, although you can’t party later than 9 or 10 p.m., depending on your neighborhood’s rules), and the block you wish to commandeer (it must be in your actual neighborhood of residence). The application includes 35 questions on everything from whether there will be tents erected to if you’ll have celebrity appearances. After you submit your application, the Street Activity Permit Office reviews it with your community board and “comments on the worthiness of closing that block,” says SAPO director Emil Lissauer. Most community boards will also require you to get the consent of a certain percentage of residents via petition.
Seeking approval: “If you’re looking for ways to improve your chances, reaching out to the community board first and getting support there is a smart way to do it,” says Lissauer. Permits for parties on blocks located at busy intersections generally won’t be approved, in which case the community board may suggest an alternative nearby. Timing conflicts are another common issue, so be prepared to negotiate a backup date.
Post-acceptance: The NYPD, the FDNY, and other city agencies will each review your application to check for potential permitting issues. You can bring up party add-ons later in the process, too—if, for example, you decide you just have to have a mechanical bull one month out—and Lissauer says the city will work with you to revise the application accordingly.
Trash: “The applicant is responsible for leaving [the block] the same way they found it,” says Lissauer. While you’re welcome to do your own pre- and post-party clean sweeps, you can alternatively hire the Department of Sanitation for about $40 per hour to bring in a mechanical broom, about $30 per hour for a collection truck, $66 to $88 per hour for a supervisor’s fee, and $48 to $65 per hour for a sanitation worker’s fee (prices depend on the day of the week).
Things you don’t have to worry about: “You won’t have to provide any sort of security for the event,” says Lissauer. “That doesn’t mean the Police Department wouldn’t have someone there, but that’s their decision,” he says. Should your local precinct decide to post officers at your party, you won’t be charged for it. Another thing you don’t have to stress about: whittling down your guest list. “If you told us there were going to be 10,000 people at your block party, we’d consult with the NYPD,” says Lissauer, “but we’ve never had an issue with attendance.”
Take It to a City Park:
Getting together with a group friends in the park isn’t so much a special event as it is a standard Sunday afternoon. But ensuring that the specific spot you’re eyeing will be available if you want to gather twenty-plus people and provide block-party accoutrements requires a little more advanced planning (at least 21 days, to be exact, although some areas require 30 days’ processing time) and a small investment ($25 to cover the application fee).
The application process: As with block parties, you’ll fill out an application with your information, the time and date you’d like your event to take place (when parties can occur varies based on the space you’re requesting), and the specific area you want to reserve; there’s also a basic twelve-item questionnaire that prompts you to explain whether you plan to have food for sale, set up any equipment in the park, or provide on-site medical service (don’t let this scare you away—answering no doesn’t equal instant rejection). Just as with block closures, various city agencies will review your application and reach out to you about any additional permits necessary for things like bounce houses or amplified sound.