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Friday, October 9, 2015

A Trick to Get More Halloween Treats

I started thinking about this post several weeks ago, around the time that all of the drug store chains and supermarkets started stocking their shelves with Halloween candy and decorations.  I was initially thinking ahead to how I can startle trick or treaters walking up to my front door on Halloween night.  Then I realized I probably won't get the opportunity to do that, because I expect I'll be accompanying my daughter as she trick or treats.

My daughter is old enough to trick or treat in our neighborhood, unsupervised, with a friend, and there are ample well-lit sidewalks to get her around the development.  But she prefers to trick or treat with friends in a different neighborhood.  And it's all about efficiency.

She can hit up three times as many houses per hour in her friend's neighborhood of townhouses than she can in her own neighborhood of homes on 0.4-acre lots. At the townhouses, with front-loading garages lining the streets, the average distance between the front doors is about 25 feet. Back home, trick or treaters have to walk anywhere from 90 to 130 feet from front door to front door (side-loading garages require much wider lots). And that's assuming the kids cut through the grass from house to house instead of walking back out the driveways to the street (anywhere from 30 to 70 feet) and then up the next driveway and sidewalk to the next front door.
My neighborhood. Very circuitous trick or treating because of large lots.

Of course this comparison is apples (hopefully candied, without razor blades) to oranges. These two neighborhoods are two different types of homes and two different price ranges. An average of 1,800 square feet of living space to an average of 2,500. And a difference of 0.15-acre lots to 0.41-acre lots.   But my point here is the usefulness of the extra 0.26-acres per lot in my neighborhood. If someone wants to have a swimming pool in their yard, they would need that extra quarter of an acre. But as you can see on the aerial photo above, fewer than 10% of the homes in my neighborhood have pools. And sure, it's extra room for kids to play. And that's important. But for the adults, it seems to me that the more distance between homes, the less likely it is that neighbors will get to know each other. Fewer opportunities to converse. Relegated to waving to the guy two houses away (200 feet away) while at the mailboxes. Bigger homes on bigger lots, with less sense of community.
My daughter's friend's neighborhood.
Much more efficient for trick or treating
in a development of townhouses. 

When I accompany my daughter trick or treating in her friend's neighborhood of townhouses, with front doors just two dozen feet apart, there is a totally different vibe. Many of the neighbors are on their doorsteps or on lawn chairs in their driveways chatting with their neighbors in between groups of ghouls grabbing Mr. Goodbars.

The differences between these two neighborhoods are based on land use decisions that the township made 20-30 years ago when they instituted the current zoning districts with different minimum lot sizes. But regardless of lot sizes, this sort of intense development eats up wildlife habitat. And lawns are a very poor excuse for wildlife habitat. It is crucial to preserve ample green spaces and natural areas in between developments to avoid full-scale sprawl like you see in these two aerial photos. We humans tend to forget that we need trees and natural areas around us to improve our quality of life. My township was primarily agricultural 50 years ago. But as farmers wanted to retire, farms were gradually sold to developers. And some of the best agricultural soil in Pennsylvania has been essentially lost forever. We now have relatively few active farms remaining and have become just another suburb of Allentown, the third largest metropolitan area in Pennsylvania. My township's population is now about 31,000. Our population has increased more than 60% since 2000 thanks to a feeding frenzy of developers fed by a clueless Board of Supervisors.

But at least my neighborhood and my daughter's friend's neighborhood have sidewalks. None of the earliest developments in this township, built from the 1960s up to the early 1990s, were required to have sidewalks. Kids in those neighborhoods have to walk in the street when trick or treating. That's the kind of dumb growth you get when municipal leaders fail to lead and simply cave in to pressure from developers to cut corners.

And back home, I guess my daughter will be trick or treating in the neighborhood where she'll have to do less walking to get more candy. Smart girl.