Friday, October 12, 2012

The Trick-or-Treat Test

Halloween is coming again, which means it is time to stock up on candy bars and lolly pops for the crush of Trick-or-Treaters that ring the bell at our home each year. On my block in Sunnymeade, we regularly see hundreds of costumed kids going from door to door, far more than the actual number of kids that live within the bounds of the neighborhood. Every year this gets me thinking about why so many come to our neighborhood to Trick-or-Treat. Here is what I have concluded.

Kids Trick-or-Treat where they (and their parents) feel safe. Safe neighborhoods have traffic that moves at slower speeds, are well-lit, and have sidewalks in good repair. If you won't let your kids walk from house to house in a neighborhood on a normal day, why would Halloween be any different?

Kids Trick-or-Treat where people are willing to share. In my neighborhood, nearly every house on the block puts on the porch light and gives away treats. Lots even decorate for the occasion. When everyone participates, it is more fun for all.

Kids (and parents) want to maximize the candy-to-walking ratio. Older neighborhoods, closer to downtown, are tailor made for this holiday. Small lot sizes means more houses closer together. My kids can walk to a couple hundred houses in two hours of Trick-or-Treating through our traditional neighborhood.

Kids (at least my junior-high aged kids) see Halloween as a chance to be independent, to walk the neighborhood after dark without the direct supervision of their parents. Each year, we admonish our older kids to stay in the neighborhood, which is easy to do when the neighborhood has clearly defined boundaries. Our kids know not to cross the busy streets, the river, or the railroad tracks. Because the limits of our neighborhood are well established, I know that our kids will stay where we want them while they enjoy their liberty for the evening.

Kids want a chance at the big payoff, the full-sized candy bar. While most of our neighbors pass out the fun-sized bar, there are a few homes that can afford to be more generous. A good neighborhood at Halloween has a mix of both the fun-sized and the full-sized treats.

Kids want to be with other kids, and neighborhoods full of kids make for great places to Trick-or-Treat. If few kids visit you on Halloween, chances are good that not many kids live in your neighborhood to begin with.

How does all of this relate to my promised discussion of the North Shore Triangle and Sunnymeade? Both of these neighborhoods meet the criteria I outlined above:

-They have well defined boundaries.
-They have higher housing densities that typical suburban development.
-They are easily walkable.
-They have a broad range of household incomes.
-They are full of families that share with each other.

It turns out that Halloween magnifies the underlying attributes that go into making good neighborhoods. In upcoming posts, I will focus on these attributes in depth, and talk specifically about how each of them contributes to the health of our neighborhoods. In the meantime, Happy Halloween!

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