From Streets to Sweets: Urban Planning's Halloween Impact

October 26, 2023
Urban Planning Community & Regional Planning

How city planning shapes not just our daily lives, but also our Halloween experiences, creating safer, more walkable neighborhoods that maximize trick-or-treat candy hauls.

As a planner, I spend a lot of time considering the unique qualities of communities and how our design and planning efforts can improve people’s lives. Through urban planning and design, we work to promote sustainable growth, enhance mobility and connectivity, foster community and social spaces and boost economic vitality. The work we do with our clients is important in shaping the physical and social fabric of towns and cities and has the power to positively impact the daily experiences and long-term well-being of the people who live in those places. October is – a time when we celebrate the role that planning plays in creating great communities. October is also the month of Halloween, which has me thinking about another important way planning can affect people’s lives; that is, how well-planned neighborhoods can maximize trick-or-treat candy hauls.

Walkability, or the level at which a space or community accommodates walking, is an important characteristic of the built environment that encourages social interaction. The benefits of a walkable environment are , and include things like higher property values, improved overall health, lower carbon emissions, increased equity in transportation options and enhanced community image and safety. One key benefit of a walkable environment yet to be scientifically studied – at least as far as I can tell – is better trick-or-treating.

Many best planning practices can lead to a better trick-or-treating experience. Many relate to the walkability and level of social interaction in an area and whether people choose to walk places and interact with their neighbors. Let’s look at some of the ways good planning can lead to great trick-or-treating.

The Incorporation of Sidewalks

Perhaps the most important element of a well-planned, optimal trick-or-treat experience is the presence of sidewalks. Planners advocate for sidewalks to improve pedestrian safety, accessibility and comfort, and a neighborhood with sidewalks is superior for candy gathering in several ways.

Porches and houses closer to sidewalks makes shorter walks to each door step.

For starters, parents are more likely to let kids walk in these neighborhoods for basic safety reasons. Parents don’t have to drive kids from house to house, which means less time spent getting in and out of the car. Another case for sidewalks is that kids don’t have to walk as far from front door to front door. Extra distance to the street curb can add a couple dozen additional feet to the trip between each home. Add in a clumsy costume to walk around in, or short, inexperienced toddler legs and that lost time for candy gathering can really add up. Sidewalks also allow for more interaction with fellow trick-or-treaters, potentially giving kids costume ideas for next year and, likely more importantly, leading to tips on the best nearby candy stop.

Designing Mixed-Density Neighborhoods and Shorter Block Lengths

Planning for mixed-density neighborhoods can help meet housing demand for more types of households. Mixed density simply means many different types of housing, from single-family and duplexes to townhomes and small apartments. Logically speaking, more houses or units to stop at means more candy. Though a series of apartment complexes with many units inside may not by itself result in more candy (it’s hard to tell how many trick-or-treat-friendly units there are inside each building if the building is accessible to outsiders at all), a mixed-density neighborhood is the optimal scenario for the most fervent trick-or-treater because it also tends to have many different types of households. A mix of young couples, single individuals, empty nesters and retirees, many of whom happily participate in the Halloween festivities and provide a lot of candy variety.

Shown left: A neighborhood development style with internal porches and sidewalks and paths to front doors, which creates the best environment for walking between houses. Shown right: a typical modern neighborhood built with large setbacks, wide lots and front loaded garages with driveways that break up the sidewalk and lessen the number of potential trick-or-treat stops. Both images show a distance of 0.1 miles.

It’s true that the mixed-density neighborhood solution might offer more places to stop, but there’s some risk that participating houses may vary from block to block. The solution? Shorter block lengths. From a planning perspective, shorter block lengths that incorporate safe pedestrian intersection crossings improve walkability by providing pedestrians with additional route choices and opportunities to take a break. From a motorist's perspective, shorter block lengths reduce the time it takes to reach higher speeds. From a trick-or-treater’s perspective, shorter block lengths mean the ability to evaluate their next move at each intersection by looking left, right and forward to see the number of lit house lights. Choosing a dud block is not that big of a risk because the next block is only a short distance away helping these little ghosts and goblins avoid losing precious time that cannot be wasted when trying to achieve maximum candy hauls.

The Prevalence of Porches and Positive Relationships

An adequate collection of research and literature exists about how porches, front yards or other social spaces facing the street front , and these “social front yards” are also great for trick-or-treating. Porches especially are excellent for facilitating successful candy collection. Whereas a smaller space at a front door can lead to congestion and waiting in line for trick-or-treaters, a porch allows multiple treaters to get their treats in assembly line fashion, lessens the time to wait in line during busy times or popular areas, and provides cover if it’s raining (or, God forbid, snowing). Not to mention, porches provide more creative opportunities for decoration.

Planners talk a lot about building social connections and there are many ways that neighborhood design can promote positive connections among neighbors. This could be through simply seeing your neighborhoods more often, as some of the practices above allow for, or more formal organizations like neighborhood associations. For trick-or-treating, residents are more likely to be involved when they know who lives on their block. One could even hypothesize that it’s possible that the number of houses giving out candy increases when there are more neighborhood social connections (a study of this topic would likely provide some very interesting findings).

There are always exceptions and context-sensitive considerations in best planning practices and the same is true for trick-or-treating. A house that gives out king-sized Butterfingers every year is worth driving to or taking a hit on the total candy bundle (quality over quantity in this case). But, as Halloween lanterns light up and costume-clad children eagerly hit the streets, it's clear that our neighborhoods are more than just clusters of houses – they're canvases for community spirit and connection. Behind every well-lit porch, every safe sidewalk and every child's candy-filled evening, there's a planner, working to create a thoughtfully designed community that can help make spooky celebrations all the more delightful.

Written by Charlie Cowell, Urban Planner