Does your city pass the popsicle test?

Paris Park
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ Paris

It was developed for North American neighborhoods, but here is a look at big international cities.

A few years ago, Kaid Benfield described the "popsicle test" of a good neighborhood:

If an 8-year-old kid can safely go somewhere to buy a popsicle, and get back home before it melts, chances are it's a neighborhood that works. Note that there's no planning jargon in there: nothing explicitly about mixed uses, or connected streets, or sidewalks, or traffic calming, or enough density to put eyes on the street. But, if you think about it, it's all there.

I always thought of it as a particularly North American thing, but Simon Kuper of the Financial Times applies it to the great cities of Europe, as well as other tests that we have written about on TreeHugger developed by Brent Toderian and Gil Penalosa. Kuper notes that most cities prioritize cars over kids, and that "cars create pollution, take up space that could be used for play and frighten parents into curtailing children’s freedom to roam." He then looks at some major cities in view of these planning situations and of course, the popsicle test.

ParisLloyd Alter/ Paris/CC BY 2.0

Paris: Kuper lives in Paris and notes that the apartments are really small. (We once showed a family apartment and an American reader suggested that in the USA the kids would be taken away by Children's Aid). But he also notes that there are public living rooms.

There’s an upside to having no private outdoor space: everyone uses the public space. When my kids walk into our local park, their friends are generally there. We parents used to watch them from benches outside the playground. Now that the children are older, we half-watch from the café across the street.

Kids in LondonLloyd Alter/ London/CC BY 2.0

London: Not a place to raise kids, fails popsicle test, too much anxiety.

New York facke Lloyd Alter/ New York City/CC BY 2.0

New York: Unaffordable. Overworks the kids. "In New York I’ve encountered a new breed of multilingual super-children, who in their scant free time create multimillion-dollar start-ups or save the planet. I generally fly home worrying that my own kids are substandard."

BerlinLloyd Alter/ Berlin/CC BY 2.0

Berlin: Terrible schools and government, but lots of playgrounds. Many kids commute alone.

Amsterdam: "Parenting is more relaxed when you don’t have to be an unpaid taxi driver."

Tivoli gardnesLloyd Alter/ Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen/CC BY 2.0

Copenhagen: This seems to win, as it almost does in everything. Gil Penalosa notes: "Every kid in Copenhagen has a playground within walking distance and no two playgrounds are the same". More at the Financial Times, which at time of writing wasn't paywalled.

How does your city stack up? There is the Popsicle Test, or Brent Toderian's test: 1) Ensure family-sized housing, 2) Ensure day care, schools and supports, 3) Design the public realm for kids, or Gil Penalosa's -- lots of parks nearby.

bentway© Bentway on Facebook

Kuper is applying the test to cities, but it really is neighbourhood-based, it is about stuff being close. My city, Toronto, is failing on the affordability of family housing side and day care is expensive, but schools are good and there are nearby parks and schoolyards. They even opened a new skating park this week. What about yours?

Does your city pass the popsicle test?
It was developed for North American neighborhoods, but here is a look at big international cities.

Related Content on Treehugger.com