Halloween in Your Neighborhood or Mine?

Our house is always a very wild scene at Halloween.

[NOTE: This article was originally published after Halloween 2010, but it’s a worthwhile reminder for this year’s event.]

My neighborhood is either the Disneyland of Halloween or the Ivy League of Halloween for our area (our streets are called Yale, Princeton, Harvard, etc.!). I strongly prefer the latter. I should explain.

We have a reputation for being so fun on Halloween that lots and lots of trick-or-treaters come by who would never pass by our house the rest of the year. We handed out a few hundred treats last night, and we would have handed out a few hundred more if we hadn’t shut down at 8pm.

You “Halloween Tourists” know who you are. Well, I have a message for you:First, I welcome you, provided you’re respectful to our neighborhood, and provided there aren’t too many of you. Last night was fine on both counts. Thanks for sharing in the joy of our neighborhood.

Halloween is the most outstanding indicator of the quality of life our neighborhood offers our children. Your attendance in our neighborhood last night helps us appreciate what a truly great neighborhood we’ve built with our neighbors.

We don’t charge you admission, nor do we attempt to screen you in any way. However, I’d like to ask you to ask yourselves some hard questions, now that that wonderful night you had in my neighborhood is behind you.

  1. Why isn’t your neighborhood sufficiently interesting for you to spend Halloween night there?
  2. Why aren’t you working with your neighbors to make Halloween in your neighborhood better for your kids?
  3. Do you consider your visit to our neighborhood last night mere Disneyland-like entertainment for you and your kids, or do you consider it to be a learning experience that will help you make your neighborhood and its Halloween better?
  4. If you feel like your neighborhood does not have the potential to be a great place for your kids on Halloween night, as well as the rest of the year, do you think you will make this your highest priority the next time you move? If not, why not?

I sincerely hope you came here because you want to learn, not because you want to be entertained. I want our neighborhood to be your Ivy League of Halloween, not your Disneyland.

I want you to soak up everything you can about why our neighborhood works for kids, and then I want you to go home and make your neighborhood better. I want you to spend next Halloween at home with your neighbors, making it a better place for kids.

Or, if you conclude that your neighborhood can never be a great place for kids, I want you to make the huge decision to move. In your new home search, I want you to make quality of neighborhood life for kids your top priority, above the quality or size of the home itself. Then, once you find that home, buy or rent it, and move in, I want you to join with your new neighbors to make it the best place possible for your kids.

If you do one of these two things, you’ll be taking important steps toward making your kids’ lives better. That will make our work in our neighborhood, on Halloween and all year round, far more fulfilling than it already is. And we won’t miss you next year. Really…

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11 Responses to Halloween in Your Neighborhood or Mine?

  1. lr_khaimovich says:

    Another excellent observation, Mike! Yet thinking about why some neighborhoods are not so good for children, I realized that often it’s because they were so good for children 20, 30, 50 years ago.

    For example it was a new neighborhood with lots of families with young children moving in. There could be a family with young children in almost every house. Then children grew up and… had to move out because there were very few vacant houses available and/or they were priced out of range of young families. The neighborhood turned into a mostly empty-nesters zone, then into an “independent living” neighborhood with very few children around.

    A natural way to deal with this problem is to make sure that there are at least 3 generations–grandparents, parents, and children–living in the same neighborhood. This way, when children are ready to form their own families, they can move into the grandparents’ homes, when grandparents need more care from their children and move in together with them or when they, sadly but naturally, die.

    In this way, the neighborhood will will remain children, parents, and grandparents friendly instead of going through the boom-and-bust cycles. BTW, I believe there are great benefits of grandparents living in the walking distance from their grandchildren (and this distance becomes shorter and shorter with age). It’s a big topic, which could be explored at length elsewhere. At least it’s something to ponder when preparing to move into another neighborhood.

  2. lr_khaimovich says:

    Mike, re-reading the article I realized, that when writing “you came here because you want to learn, not because you want to be entertained” you completely missed the point. It’s not about education or entertainment. For ages ~5-year-old and up, it’s mostly about collecting more candies than your friends.
    How do I know? One family in our neighborhood had their front yard nicely decorated, but was handing out used children books instead of candies. They had the whole table full of books–good ones. Yet children were immediately turning around and leaving after figuring that they were “tricked.”

    In general, how much of actual trick-or-treating game is going on? Most little beggars rush in, often without saying a word or establishing eye contact extend their bags, and hurry toward the next “distribution site” throwing quick “thank you” on their way out as a reply to a cheese “have a nice Halloween”.

    So, already at pretty young age one can see the difficulty anyone establishing a playborhood will have to address. Namely, attention is being paid only to “tangible” benefits, and human relationships are reduced to just one – competition.

    Speaking about competiton, you may be proud about the amount of treats you handed out, but I am quite sure that you couldn’t compete with the stores along the business drag of your neighborhood, who had their Halloween marketing campaign on the same evening.

  3. Liz says:

    Just stumbled across this blog from Free Range Kids, but your post struck a chord with me. While I love the idea of what you’re saying, I do feel like you’re being a little unfair to some of the poorer families who come through your area. It’s really nice to be able to afford to move, isn’t it? And to be selective enough that you can insist on a child-friendly neighborhood for your family, that’s pretty cool too. I think, though, that your message might seem a little cruel to families who are struggling. How many kids from East Menlo or EPA come through your neighborhood on Halloween? How many kids are leaving a neighborhood that is really uninviting and that they can’t reasonably leave?

    Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s just kids from your affluent local area, whose parents would do well to heed your instruction. But if not, maybe that’s something to be considered? Is a safe, inviting neighborhood on Halloween a privilege of the wealthy? Can we do something to help poorer neighborhoods provide a Halloween Disneyland for their own kids?

  4. Mike Lanza says:

    Liz – Most of our Halloween tourists did come from affluent areas, but even for the ones who came from low-income areas (e.g. East Menlo or EPA), I think my questions in the article are apropos. Yes, moving to a good neighborhood isn’t as easy for them, but I still think most families, including people in low-income areas, can expend a lot more effort than they have on making their current neighborhoods better. See the most recent article on this site about Lyman Place in the South Bronx, or read the other articles about that place. It’s a great example of what great things can happen when a resident of a low-income neighborhood resolves to make her neighborhood a better place.

  5. ctexashomes says:

    Mike for the most part I like the way you express your opinion. This article is an exception to that rule and then some. If you have such an issue with the tourist then dont turn on your light.

  6. Moitreyee_Chowdhury_FB says:

    Mike, as the comment above says, generally we all like your ideas and comments.

    But for this one,…. take it easy. It is Halloween. Just pass out the candies. I would say, sometimes we all over analyze a situation. May be the kids knew there was more candies on your street, that is why they came.

  7. Mike Lanza says:

    ctexashomes and Moitreyee –

    Maybe you’re not following what I’m getting at here. Halloween is the most important day of the year for neighborhoods and kids. I advocate very strongly here for people to invest time into making their neighborhoods great places for their kids.

    People who celebrate Halloween away from their neighborhoods as “tourists” are giving up on their neighborhoods. While I welcome them if they want to come to my house, I’m sad for them because they’ve given up, to some extent, on their own neighborhood. I really hope they’ll decide to invest time there to make it better. Coming to our neighborhood is a cheap thrill for them, but they’ll get more enduring joy if they put in the time to make their neighborhood a place they want to be not only on Halloween, but all year round.

    Do you still want me to just smile and not think about all those folks whose neighborhoods aren’t worthy of staying home for Halloween? This makes me sad…

  8. Moitreyee_Chowdhury_FB says:

    Got it now.
    Do you also think some time it also depends on the age of the people living at a certain neighborhood?

  9. Mike Lanza says:

    Moitreyee – I’d say that if a family with small children lives in a neighborhood with no other small children, or even children a little older, the parents should really think about moving to a neighborhood with children. Kids benefit very much from a neighborhood play life, in my opinion, and they can’t get that if there are no other kids in the neighborhood. From a kid’s point of view, other kids in the neighborhood are more important than pretty much any house attribute you can think of (kitchen appliances, extra bathroom, hardwood floors, etc.).

  10. Petunia says:

    Hello Mike,

    I myself am a well-off, well educated white mother of 3 in West Menlo Park. My children also benefit from living in a community of similarly educated and relatively high-earning families in a charming, family-friendly neighborhood that sees many visitors on Halloween. But I have a different perspective. Instead of feeling bitter about having to part with a few extra mini-Snicker’s on Halloween night, or offering suggestions to others about how they might improve their own neighborhoods and stay out of mine, I recognize that I have been given opportunities that so many other bay area families haven’t.
    I suspect that you have been given many of those same advantages. How naive to suggest that you earned the right to live in the allied arts neighborhood and experience all of the benefits of its community, while those who drive over the bridge or over the freeway on Halloween are lazy, and haven’t invested in their own communities. I suspect that you yourself have done little more than these folks have to make your neighborhood what it is – sure, you pay your mortgage, maintain your home and your landscaping, decorate for Halloween, etc. But the most important thing you did was to buy a million dollar home within a ready-made community of like-minded, equally well educated, white families. The vast majority of bay area families don’t have that option – and not because they don’t work hard, or love their children, or are too lazy to make good choices, but because they haven’t had the advantages that you have had, or the incomes that go along with those advantages.
    It is privilege to live in a safe neighborhood with open doors and lighted porches. So many others envy you because they cannot access a community like that, no matter how hard they work, and no matter what level of effort they might make to influence their neighbors. That is because you can’t mobilize neighbors who don’t feel safe in their homes, or who aren’t home at all because they work 2 jobs and come home only to sleep, etc. You have been blessed in so many ways that others haven’t been, and that is why they envy you, and come to your neighborhood. Your neighborhood is also easily accessible from to El Camino, and borders many lower-income areas, apartment buildings, etc, so is convenient to many who have less….

    If you don’t like that other folks can get into your neighborhood, perhaps you should move into a gated community, or onto a gated estate, and then pack your kids in the car and drive over to Allied Arts on Halloween?

  11. Mike Lanza says:

    @Petunia –

    First, I want to repeat what I said in the article that I’m welcoming to everyone. However, I feel bad for them that these Halloween tourists have given up on their neighborhoods. You’re wrong about how much work I’ve put into our neighborhood – I’ve put a tremendous amount of work into it, and it made Halloween much, much better for us. I’m advocating that those tourists try hard to do many of the same things I’ve done to improve their neighborhoods, wherever they come from.

    Now, I want to address the poverty issue. I addressed this issue in an earlier comment, but since you live close to me, I’ll be more explicit here. Because I know at least the faces of most of my neighbors here, I asked a *lot* of trick-or-treater parents where they live, not just those who look like they come from poor areas. What I found was that we had a *great* many tourists, and most of them look like they live here but don’t.

    In other words, they weren’t poor. I recall a lot from Atherton, many from West Menlo (e.g. Valparaiso), etc. I presume from your comment that you don’t disagree with my article insofar as it addresses these tourists.

    So, what about the poor tourists? Yes, I feel bad for them to some extent, but I don’t automatically believe that their neighborhoods are beyond help because they’re poor. I’ve profiled *fabulous* poor neighborhoods on Playborhood.com (e.g. search on “Lyman”) that have tremendous community feel because of the investment that residents make in human relations right there. I *am* saying to these poor tourists that they should make an effort to turn around their neighborhoods just like I’ve done here and Hetty Fox has done in Lyman Place in the Bronx. I just don’t buy the alternative that you’re implying – “your neighborhood sucks, so there’s no point in your investing any of your time in it.”

    If they invest real efforts into making their neighborhood a better places, they *will* improve it, at least somewhat. I don’t want to tell anyone that they can’t help themselves. That would be, well, condescending.