Chicago’s 2016 summer is officially over.
As we say goodbye to music festivals, street fairs and parades, we also start to bid farewell to another familiar site: bounce houses.
Street barbeques, bounce houses and bean bag tosses are some of the signs of summer at many of the city’s block parties.
The parties – not to be confused with larger street fests – are a pastime in many Chicago neighborhoods. Residents can close their street to traffic, pull out the folding tables and kick back with neighbors as children run up and down the block.
In 2016, there have been 4,356 applications for block parties, of which 4,100 were approved, according to data from the Chicago Department of Transportation. Residents can apply any time, and there are no limitations on when in a year a block party can happen, according to CDOT.
Eighty-nine percent of the permits were for block parties between June 20 and September 22. Approximately 3,461 of the year’s permits, or 89%, are for the summer season (June 20 - September 22).
Nobody was adventurous enough to have a block party after October, but there are three planned for Halloween.
Chicagoans hit the streets in force, but which streets? Well, you need to follow the single-family homes.
An analysis of block party permits issued by CDOT revealed heavy concentrations in Edison Park, Jefferson Park and Norwood Park on the Northwest Side, and in Beverly, Mount Greenwood and West Lawn on the Southwest Side.
Summer block parties are typically ward-driven events. Three wards stand out for having the most block parties: the 19th on the Southwest Side with 213 permits approved, the 41st on the Northwest Side with 172 and the 13th on the West Side with 140.
Block Parties By Census Tract
Aldermen often act as middleman between neighbors, churches, community groups and the city in organizing the affairs. It is one of the few things that can be done in the city with no cost to taxpayers — and only a one-page application.
Ald. Matthew O’Shea, 19th, would be the city’s undisputed king of summer block parties.
“It’s the one day of the summer that the kids can just be kids, and it’s right on the block,” he said.
O’Shea said his constituents will bring out tables and basketball hoops, and occasionally a “jumping jack,” similar to a bounce house.
He said his office was responsible only for accepting and submitting the permits to CDOT for approval. Organizing and setting up the party is up to residents.
“They park a minivan at one end of the block and one end of the block,” O’Shea said.
“They will notify the fire department, if it’s available, an engine or truck might stop by for a little bit,” he added.
When asked why block parties were so popular, particularly in his ward, O’Shea said it is a neighborhood affair – one deeply rooted in traditions and families.
“Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood are very close knit communities, and have been for generations,” he said.
“On certain blocks, neighbors know each other, their kids grew up together. People retire in my community and they stay in their house, and they have long-standing relations with their neighbors.”
Block Parties by Ward
Data suggests that seems to be the case. Neighborhoods with a higher population density and more high-rises tend to have fewer block parties. And if you’re in the 42nd Ward, forget it. There were no block party permits for 2016.
Block parties can’t be on major streets, or interfere with street work or public transportation. The 42nd Ward – which includes the Loop, Millennium Park and Navy Pier – has little to no side streets to host them.
Any events involving public right of way downtown must go to the city’s special events department for permitting because public safety and traffic management issues, according to 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly’s office. They may have to make do with Lollapalooza and Blues Fest as a consolation.
Elliott Ramos is a digital editor. He manages analytics for the WBEZ and also does enterprise data reporting. Follow him @ChicagoEl