It’s that time of year as the summer winds down and the start of of a new school year is just around the corner, a Chicago summer ritual is taking place throughout the city. Block parties are a Chicago tradition that goes back probably as long as Chicago has been a city.
As a child, I have fond and vivid memories of block parties. Whether it was on my home block drinking frappe(melted sherbet and ginger ale) and various desserts and appetizers. On my uncle’s block, it was a major production, where there was entertainment. The teenagers and other youngsters from his block and the surrounding neighborhood lip synced or danced to whatever was the current hot song along with costumes to boot.
Fast forward to 2012 and I’m not a big fan of block parties and some politicians call this season the “banana pudding circuit”. The traditionalist line up at the Alderman’s office January 1 to apply for their permit and request the various amusements the city of Chicago provides (jumping jacks, bean bag games, dunk tanks, etc). After doing all of this and you pass by some of these parties, all you see is a handful of kids riding bikes along a deserted street and an half empty jumping jack. You can also see the examples of why I have become cynical towards this tradition. The parties have become fiefdom wars between churchs and the remainder of the block as some small church’s rope off a portion of the block for their party with no regard for the other residents. These party’s have become a poor excuse for public drinking and foolishness as you pass the block and see the alcohol in open display which ends up causing problems as automobiles parked in front of street entrances and side alleys to become barriers. This practice and alcohol cause numerous calls for the Chicago Police Department to come out and break up fights as individuals define what is the legal perimeter of a block party.
After seeing these examples over the years I wondered what would I see if the City of Chicago started to charge a permit fee? I think for those who plan and take this seriously it would make very little different if they had to pay $100-$250. For those who just get a permit because this is what we have done for years, I think we could reduce the number of calls to CPD for assistance as well as free up the city paid amusements and allow them to be distributed to groups who really could use them. With the level of violence we have seen this summer I think we need to look at putting some procedures in place so the block party of today can be as much fun as those of the past.