Halloween Community Building: Spooky Decor and Trick-or-Treating Strengthens Neighborhoods


Moss has been finding satisfaction in our foray into halloween decorating – a creepy looking clown lurking in the tree next to our front door.  He is fun and funky … and he’s our contribution to Halloween community building.  “An evil clown builds community?” you ask.  YES.  

evil clown

Decorating for Halloween signals our participation in the neighborhood ritual – reinforcing our community citizenship – and that we plan to open our door to anyone who rings the bell Saturday.

How Halloween Can Build Stronger Neighborhoods

Even in the relatively transit and pedestrian friendly North Side of Chicago it is easy to see that each house is largely an enclosed unit unto itself.  Residents come and go via car, rarely stop to speak to each other, and spend little time on their neighborhood sidewalks.  The same is even more true in outlying suburbs and the outlying districts.  A walk through the neighborhood too often shows streets and sidewalks full of cars and buildings … and apparently empty of people.

One notable exception to this empty street syndrome is Halloween.  Neighbors greet each other, drivers are more careful of pedestrians and children feel safe to knock on doors under light supervision.  It is a pedestrian advocate’s dream come true!

Despite the 24-hour news cycle’s obsession with “Danger from Fill-in-the-Blank: Details at 10“, Halloween is not a dangerous time of year to be out on the street.  It is one of the safest, simply because everyone is out and about on that evening.

“We almost called this paper ‘Halloween: The Safest Day of the Year’ because it was just so incredibly rare to see anything happen on that day.”

So says crime survey researcher, Elizabeth Letourneau, about her study actually titled: “How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters?”  And as Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids, points out in a 2010 Wall Street Journal article on the community building aspects of Halloween, “No child has ever been killed by poisoned candy. Ever.

Why you should try to trick-or-treat where you live

In pursuit of the safest, and most fun trick-or-treat experience, it might seem easy to bundle your kids into the car, and head off for a neighborhood that’s known to be safe, well decorated, and generous with open doors.  Or, to skip house to house walking all together and visit an area business district that is handing out candy on an October weekend.

Please don’t.

Leaving your own neighborhood to trick-or-treat destroys one of the best fringe benefits of the holiday (aside from stealing “extra” candy from a kid you know) the neighborhood building … both for you and for the kids.  It takes away their chance to feel safe on the sidewalk, to practice good citizenship, and even to run into local friends.

Of course, this logic can be turned on its head.   We don’t advocate trick-or-treating in unsafe places. If you your neighborhood doesn’t seem like a good place to walk around with kids and knock on doors … or to open your door to strangers … that’s a signal it is lacking in both pedestrian friendliness and a strong sense of community.  That’s obviously not a problem any one person can solve before the weekend, but take it as a sign of a neighborhood in need of improvement!

A Lesson from Scrooge

Part of the reason Halloween is so remarkable for its community spirit, is how different it feels from the rest of the year.  There is more decorating for the winter holidays, and the odd summer block party, sure, but too often neighborhood closeness is continuity not community.  We can change that by trying to ‘keep Halloween in our hearts all the year.

Let’s take a lesson from the holiday, and resolve to spend more time out on foot in our home territory, to speak to our neighbors more, and to generally blur the lines between home and sidewalk.  We’ll all be happier for it, even without the candy!