The physical design of our neighbourhood acts against the creation of community
We didn’t have any trick-or-treaters come to our door last week for Halloween, so I’ve taken on the formidable task of eating all these chocolate bars myself.
We expected a few—maybe a dozen or so, like in past years—but the miserable weather seemed to scare everyone away from our neighbourhood this year. It’s a stark change from the days when we used to live in Cabbagetown and we would have hundreds of trick-or-treaters (literally, our best year we had over 400 children show up and we had to shut down early because we ran out of candy) scurrying around the neighbourhood. No matter what the weather, we could count on more visitors than we could count, or could prepare for.
Our little enclave in the southeast of Byron is much less bustling than Cabbagetown, and is surrounded by farms and woods instead of heavily-populated urban neighbourhoods. This offers one explanation of why the numbers of trick-or-treaters are low here, but doesn’t tell the whole story. The real reason we don’t get many people coming to our door on Halloween is a reflection of the failure of urban design.
In a recent post in Strong Towns, Daniel Herriges highlighted a few characteristics that make a neighbourhood good for trick-or-treating: lots of doors, doors you can find, comfortable sidewalks, small setbacks, porches or stoops, well-connected streets. Sadly, our little part of town exemplifies literally the opposite of everything he mentions: we are a mess of winding roads and cul-de-sacs with detached homes on huge lots, set back far from the street with large front lawns. We don’t even have a sidewalk in front of our house, and most streets in our neighbourhood are lucky if they have a sidewalk on one side of the street—never both. We are the antithesis of what Herriges describes as pro-social design.
What does that mean for us? First, it means that we don’t get many (or any, like this year) trick-or-treaters. Second, it means that perhaps we weren’t as discerning as we should have been when we purchased our home; we love it, and love the freedom it gives us to host others and act as a place of gathering for friends and loved ones, but it can be isolating when we don’t make the effort. Lastly, it means that in order to create a sense of neighborliness, we have to work twice as hard to create the conditions for serendipity and community activation—something I haven’t been doing enough of, recently.
This Halloween was a bit of a wake-up call for me. It reminded me that great communities don’t just happen, but that they are created and designed. If the physical design of our neighbourhood actively acts against the creation of community, we all need to work extra hard to connect with the people around us. It’s something I’ll be devoting a lot of time to in the year to come, and something I’ll most likely be sharing a lot about in the next few months.
Why do you ask?
Kate Beston Barnes
I can’t make
about my life
tonight. The house
is like an overturned
I ask my dog
to tell me
a story, and she
a time,” she says,
”a woman lived
with a simply
wonderful dog…” and
she stops talking.
“Is that all?”
I ask her.
“Yes,” she says,
“Why do you ask?
Isn’t it enough?”
The Keeper of Sheep, VII
From my village I see as much of the universe as can be seen
from the earth,
And so my village is as large as any town,
For I am the size of what I see
And not the size of my height…
In the cities life is smaller
Than here in my house on top of this hill.
The big buildings of cities lock up the view,
They hide the horizon, pulling our gaze far away from the
They make us small, for they take away all the vastness our
eyes can see,
And they make us poor, for our only wealth is seeing.
Today, we’re celebrating four years, together.
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This Urban Tetris by Mariyan Atanasov is positively delightful:
Find joy and connection in your communities, however you define them. Thanks for being a part of mine.
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