My first ever block party took place on Aug. 28, 1993. I know this because I had to set a VHS to record the U.S. premiere of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Any other Saturday morning would be filled with cartoons and cereal, but this Saturday was special. This was the Saturday of our annual block party.
While most people eagerly await Memorial Day, July 4th, or even Labor Day, for me, the block party on North 30th Street was the best event of the summer. As a 9-year-old in Strawberry Mansion, my street was typically filled with cars parked on both sides. Seeing it car-free for the day, and even better, seeing those cars replaced with slip n' slides, grills, and neighbors dancing, was a sight to behold.
But it was nothing compared to the neighboring block party on 29th Street, which featured a band, the biggest Electric Slide group I'd ever seen, and some of the best food in all of North Philadelphia. Even Mayor Ed Rendell would show up. This was huge for me. The fact that the mayor came to my neighborhood made him a real person and not just some guy on TV.
My family participated in every aspect of our block party, from the morning street cleaning to the nighttime cleanup after the festivities had ended.
In my early 20s, I didn't live in a block party-friendly neighborhood, so I made a point to head up to my old neighborhood on the weekends to see and smell some block parties.
When my wife and I lived in West Philly, I made it my mission to show her how special a block party could be, so we decided to organize one for our own street, the 400 block of Sloan Street.
I got a huge kick out of going down to the municipal building and submitting my paperwork and fee for a block party of my own. Overhearing everyone inside the office hyping their block parties to each other filled me with a sense of pride. Some were in the office for the first time, while others had been having block parties for years.
My first block party went off without a hitch. I finished the day tired, covered in sweat and filled with pride as if this was the day I added a big stamp to my Philadelphian card.
Last week, I was disappointed to learn that the city has added superfluous red tape to the the block party approval process. The new policy requires neighborhoods to get preapproved by their local Police District before they can submit an application to the Streets Department. This adds an unnecessary layer to the process, and in my opinion, it is unfair to ask citizens to act as a coordinator between two city offices who should be able to communicate among themselves.
Philadelphia 3.0, a political reform organization, is petitioning Mayor Kenney to reverse the policy change, saying it creates "unnecessary red tape … [and will] weaken this important part of Philadelphia's culture." If you agree, you can sign the #SaveBlockParties petition here.
I implore the City to reconsider this decision. Block parties are a time-honored tradition in Philadelphia and any attempt to make the task of organizing such an event more difficult is wrong.
Harold Burnett is lifetime resident of Philadelphia, and if you invite him he will 100% show up at your block party. @HaroldBurnett