Catherine Geanuracos
April 7, 2020

How to improve neighborhood preparedness with more block parties

There are many benefits to local government of encouraging more neighborhood events and block parties. Besides being a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening, block parties build connections among neighbors. Those connections can make all the difference! Stronger social connections means that communities are better prepared if disasters happen, and more likely to work together to solve problems.

Unfortunately we're less likely than ever to know and interact with our neighbors - only 20% of us regularly interact with people who live nearby, and more than 30% don't know any neighbors at all. This disconnection can be critical when we need to support each other during natural disasters, blackouts or other challenges.

Santa Monica's Office of Civic Wellbeing wanted to increase the number of block parties to help neighbors connect. In its initial wellbeing surveys, community members shared that they wanted to get to know their neighbors, but weren't sure how. The team zeroed in on replacing the arduous, paper-based block party application process as one opportunity to increase local connections.  The City's Traffic Management Division of the Planning and Community Development Department was open to new ideas and new methods. Together, we came up with a plan to improve neighborhood connections.

Santa Monica had 5x as many block parties after they brought their application and review online. Because CityGrows reduces the time it takes to review each application, City staff can do much more with in the same (or less!) amount of time.

In 2017, block party applicants had to fill out a long application, collect neighborhood support signatures on paper, and then walk the entire package around to multiple city departments (in different buildings!) to get sign-off.  The result? In a community of almost 100,000 people there were only 4 block parties!

In late 2018, the City moved the block party application onto CityGrows, and the change was noticeable immediately. With an easy-to-complete, mobile-friendly online application, more residents decided to create events in their communities.

We're proud to report there have been more than 35 block parties in the year since Santa Monica since the city switched to CityGrows (check out the open data page for the application to see the stats for yourself).  And what's even more impressive, is that staff didn't need to spend five times more time to manage the increase in volume.

Because CityGrows streamlines and automates communication with applicants and notifies reviewers when they have a new application to approve, applications move through the multi-departmental review process quickly. And applicants can share a link with their neighbors to get approval online!

If you're looking for an affordable, easy-to-implement option to improve social connection in your community, you can duplicate and customize Santa Monica's block party permit workflow on CityGrows in just a few clicks.  You can adjust to create simultaneous or sequential reviews, adjust permit fees, and adapt to your local needs.  Connect with us via our chat or at info@citygro.ws if you have questions or need help getting started!

Catherine Geanuracos

CEO and Co-Founder of CityGrows. Dedicated to transforming government technology and helping local governments provide better service and do more with less. Former VP of City of Los Angeles Innovation and Performance Commission, co-founder of LA's Code for America Brigade Hack for LA. Catherine is the Chair of the Board for CicLAvia, north America's largest open streets bicycle events. She's based in Silver Lake in Los Angeles.

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