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Fight for the right to party

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In an effort to forge stronger community ties among neighbors, Missoula City Councilwoman Emily Bentley this week asked her colleagues to make it easier for locals to throw block parties.

“I think every block in the city should have a party at some point,” Bentley says.

On Wednesday, the Missoula City Council Public Safety and Health Committee began hashing out Bentley’s request to streamline the block party application process. As it stands, gaining approval is daunting, Bentley says. Prior to receiving authorization, a party planner must fill out a six-page application, which requires, among other things, obtaining signatures from seven different municipal department heads, including those who oversee finance, traffic, fire, parking, parks and recreation, police and the mayor’s office.

“The application is pretty onerous,” Bentley says. “It seems like maybe we could [make it easier] … for people, so they don’t have as much trouble.”

A Slant Streets constituent alerted Bentley to the red tape after being forced to take an entire day off work to complete the application, Bentley says.

While researching the issue, Bentley has become something of a block party expert. She rattles off the benefits of such social gatherings, noting, for example, that when people get to know their neighbors, they’re more likely to discuss problems that may arise and thereby alleviate conflict. Similarly, Bentley references social science studies that have found cohesive communities have significantly lower crime rates.

Many cities in recent years have made it easier to host block parties. Oakland, for instance, distributes a block party guide complete with suggested party activities and invitations that can be duplicated. Oakland’s effort is done in conjunction with a broader plan facilitated by a nonprofit called “National Night Out,” which in 1984 began helping people across the country launch the gatherings to cultivate healthier communities.

The cities of Longmont, Colo., and Redwood City, Calif., meanwhile, actually offer grants to pay for block parties.

In light of what’s being done elsewhere, Bentley says the least Missoula can do is cut through some of its red tape. “Block parties are exactly the type of activity we want neighbors involved in,” she says.

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