How the number of kids trick or treating in your neighbourhood reflects its urban design (Maybe)

Halloween and trick or treating in safe neighbourhoods

Halloween has just passed us here in Australia. Over the past two to three decades, the tradition has become more strongly embraced by many kids (and their families), in particular the opportunity to dress up and go from house to house, trick or treating for candy (or lollies, as I still call them).

You might be under the belief that any issues to do with Halloween relate to whether you like, or dislike, Halloween. And there’s been plenty of discussion about that (because there always seems to be a lot of discussion about new traditions and whether we support them or not).

You may be surprised to realise that Halloween is also seen by some planners and urban designers as a measure of how welcoming and inviting the design of a local neighbourhood is. I was – although I shouldn’t have been. Because I have a habit of relating everything to planning. As my partner – now husband – used to say in the early days ‘It all comes back to planning‘, as I’d weave some rationale into every topic. (He doesn’t say that any more because it’s self evident to him now too. Plus, it became really repetitive).

But, anyway, thanks to an article published in Slate (link here), I’m now aware that in the States, at least, the number of tricker or treaters can be a good way to determine the local environment. And it makes some sense.

The relationship between the number of trick or treaters and the quality of a neighbourhood was first noticed this in Portland, Oregon (which isn’t surprising – a lot of planning and urban design realisations seem to come out of the north-west of the USA). The planners there dubbed it, innovatively, the ‘trick or treat’ test.

Apparently, they noticed that the most popular places for trick or treating are places where:

  • Cars drive more slowly (narrower roads, more street activity or activity in the front yards)
  • Streets are well lit
  • Houses are close together
  • The front doors to houses are clearly visible and the access is reasonably close to the street.

In turn, that makes these homes more welcoming places not only for kids who are trick or treating, but for people to walk around, and to feel more connected to neighbours. Certainly, high front fences, lack of clear entries to homes, and houses where the garages dominate are not welcoming places, and tend not to encourage interaction with others.

Some people don’t always see this as a good thing, though. It occurred to me that these criteria might also make an area attractive for excessive numbers of door to door sellers (not always ideal).

I’ve got to admit that I haven’t been a big fan of trick or treating, when I haven’t known the kids involved (or if my kids wanted to go to someone’s home who we didn’t know). I haven’t been comfortable with the idea of asking / demanding, in some cases, sugary food from people who you will never otherwise reach out to. It seemed greedy to me.

But then I read this letter the Slate article linked to (see link), and cringed. :

“Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?”

I think I’d rather give lollies than have this attitude. So – like so often happens, I’m having to re-evaluate my values. Again.

Ah well, nothing like having them challenged by someone more judgmental than you!

If you or your kids participated in Halloween, did you chose locations which met the trick or treat test? (or maybe you live in a neighbourhood like this – lucky you!)
Do you think these criteria make sense – or do you think there are other factors involved?

And do you like Halloween and if so – think it is something best celebrated within a neighbourhood only, or do you welcome anyone who wants to participate? 

8 thoughts on “How the number of kids trick or treating in your neighbourhood reflects its urban design (Maybe)

  1. Very interesting!! This is the only place we have ever lived that has a culture of trick or treating. The streets are very quiet – sort of semi-rural and close, but not squished in. People just meandering up and down the street in groups, very chill. Love it.


    1. Yes, I’ve never really grown up with it, but it’s become pretty big around here – probably because our homes are mostly still pretty open to the street (not many big fences, etc). Quiet this year though, but that’s because it was the day before Cup Day and most families turned it into a four day weekend. But your area sounds great – meandering is wonderful.


  2. Makes sense to me. We had no trick or treaters – despite putting up a sign and preparing with lollies, but we suspect that it’s because we live on a busy Street where most of the houses are set well back into the property. It’s not the kind of street I’d really let my kids wander from home to home on either, though I know there were plenty of kids doing it in the neighbourhood. My street was obviously a no go zone


    1. Interesting. That might be the case – if so, and if you want to join in next year, maybe it would work better with kinder families or something?


  3. This is fascinating! I’m American, and as a kid, we always just went trick-or-treating in our neighborhood, but thinking about it, it did fit all the criteria described.
    We now live in a large complex of units, so I thought we’d just be hunting down a nearby “trick-or-treat friendly” neighborhood, but someone in the complex arranged a Halloween for all the kids, with selected apartments volunteering to hand out the candy. There were about 20 kids, and it was so much more fun to do it with our neighbors, even if a bit unconventional.


    1. It is a great thing to do with your neighbours, isn’t it? One of our good friends is American too, and one of the first things she did when settling here was to organise her street into a Halloween trick or treating street (for those who wanted to join in – balloons at the letterbox if you’re in) with all the kids meeting and finishing at their place. Works really well!


  4. Very interesting! Our area is quite big in the Halloween department and I must say it is a section of houses in a grid over 5 streets that you can easily weave up and down. There are hundreds of kids and I agree the houses are close together and most are street front although some go down a driveway. I have mixed feelings about it too, but then after the event the kids have so much fun I change my mind!!


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