Does Your Neighborhood Pass the Trick or Treat Test?

©. Zillow

Planner Brent Toderian looked at the classic planning concept of Trick or Treat urbanism.

It is that time of year that Zillow puts out its list of the 20 best cities for Trick or Treating; last year we discussed how they get it wrong by concentrating on "three equally weighted data variables: median home value, housing density and population age." Henry Grabar wrote in Citylab: downgrading the importance of urban design, Zillow winds up with some bad results. And although I know I shouldn’t care about Zillow’s Halloween rankings, I do—if only because the real estate listing company is misunderstanding and obscuring a valuable idea about how we build cities.
Brent Toderian

© Brent Toderian

After Zillow's treatment of Kate Wagner and her McMansion Hell website this summer, we are not going to give it any more attention, but will look at greater detail at a much better tool: The Trick or Treat Test, as defined by Brent Toderian. He wrote in Huffington Post:

house with garage

© A lovely, balanced architectural composition

In city planning and design, there's an old saying about the "Trick-or-Treat Test." It's often brought up in the context in suburban home design: Can kids easily find the front door to your house, or must they poke behind the huge multi-car garage, past the parking asphalt, to ring your bell?
Promo image. KB Homes, Florida

KB Homes, Florida/Promo image

He notes that most homes with big snout garages are not welcoming to kids -- to have to cross a lot of real estate to get past the garage doors and then often have trouble even finding the front door.

A Halloween-friendly 'hood, though, is more than just front door-design. Is your neighbourhood a great place for kids to get a big candy haul on Halloween night? How quickly, easily and safely can kids move from house to house? Do parents actually drive from other communities to yours, because it's a more fruitful candy-collecting location?

Brent's key design points for neighbourhoods that are great for living as well as trick-or-treating:

  • Tree-lined streets designed for walkers more than speeding cars.
  • Enough density and community completeness, to activate what I call "the power of nearness" -- everything you need, nearby.
  • Good visual surveillance through doors and stoops, windows (and I don't mean windows in garages), porches and "eyes on the street."
  • Connected, legible streets that let you "read" the neighbourhood easily; grids tend to be good for this, but other patterns work too.

He concludes: "Why is Halloween my favourite holiday? Because it reminds us once a year what great neighbourhoods are made of."


© Paul Knight

And don't forget to check out how to Maximize Your Halloween with New Urbanism.