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Learning from Trick or Treating

Trick or Treating at neighborhood green space in Cleveland Heights

[CAPTION: Trick or Treating at neighborhood green space in Cleveland Heights]

In our Cleveland Heights neighborhoods, most of us live fairly close together. And when we live close together, we will, for better or worse, be affected by the actions of our neighbors!

So in Cleveland Heights, it’s particularly important that our neighborhoods function as communal places, where neighbors communicate and socialize and work together to make the neighborhood a better place. For people who choose to live on a secluded lot in, let’s say, Geauga County, this kind of “community” may not be as important or necessary a value.

Not every neighborhood is a community. A neighborhood may be merely a collections of houses — more a physical place than a communal place.

Many of us who live in Cleveland Heights and nearby cities want our neighborhoods to function as communal places, not just out of the necessity caused by living so close together, but because we truly value the sense of community that comes from living in a place where neighbors are …. “neighborly.” Some of us may even hope that our neighborhoods can be laboratories for more communal behavior in our nation and our world!

Community can be achieved in many ways in a neighborhood. Closely spaced houses, front porches, detached garages, sidewalks and “common grounds” — gathering places like neighborhood parks and walkable retail districts — all contribute to strengthening a sense of community. Dogs (who are walked) and babies (who are strolled) also help!

Once a year many of us participate in an odd form of community building called Halloween, particularly the “Trick or Treat” element of Halloween.

Personally, I’ve always liked participating in this ancient neighborhood ritual, earlier in life as member of the recipient community and now as a member of the donor community. I never thought much about why I liked the Trick or Treat event, but now I realize that it’s connected to my affection for neighborhoods, particularly the urban-type neighborhoods like those in Cleveland Heights (University Heights, Shaker Heights, etc.).

I had never thought about how urban neighborhoods are actually a prerequisite for Trick or Treating! For children living in semi-rural suburbs, with houses spaced far apart and not connected by sidewalks, the “return on investment” gained from Trick or Treating is minimal.

City planners and urban researchers have worked for years to identify statistics that are key indicators of strong neighborhoods, as well as weak neighborhoods. One indicator that few if any researchers have considered is the intensity of Trick or Treating in a neighborhood! My guess is that active Trick or Treating is a pretty good indicator of a neighborhood’s success as a welcoming, communal and safe place.

Recently, as I was mulling over these thoughts about Trick or Treating in the context of neighborhoods, I was pleased to come across an article written by a fellow city planner, and published nationally, on the value of Halloween and Trick or Treating to neighborhoods.

The article talks about how Trick or Treating is one activity that begins to break down the barriers between neighbors and take a step, albeit only once a year, to making our neighborhoods more connected, more communal places. Here is a link to that article.

I hope that my thoughts and those thoughts expressed in this article cause us all to consider what we can do to help break down barriers between neighbors and to help build and strengthen the bonds of community.

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