When you think about Halloween – whether it’s memories of going through your candy haul, showing off your homemade costumes, or your hopes for trick-or-treating with your kids – your thoughts probably don’t land on urbanism. But the fact that Halloween is now the second largest commercial holiday in the US speaks to something – Halloween is a beloved holiday. And examining what we love most about it can help illuminate what we most value in our communities and neighborhoods.

Many of us love Halloween – especially trick-or-treating with loved ones as fall inches towards winter – and that’s mainly because of community, mobility, and open space. Elements we all need and deserve in our daily lives wherever we call home.

Halloween gives us a heightened sense of shared purpose and appreciation for creativity.

.Halloween: A Community Story

It’s no surprise that Halloween as a holiday puts community front and center. You’re not just trick-or-treating with your friends or family – you’re part of a larger hive of activity, connection, shared purpose, and joy. Whether you connect with strangers over candy or costumes, you’re participating in and building community through shared culture and creativity. In fact, people’s home decorations and costumes are forms of community art – energizing our neighborhoods one smile or moment of reflection at a time. We are social creatures, and despite the advances of modernity, more people are struggling with loneliness than perhaps ever before. The pandemic did not help matters. Our need to feel connected to people, and a sense of belonging as members of communities, is fundamental to our well-being. And not just our closest friends and families but the broader circle of neighbors and community members, the cherished anonymous smile in the canned goods aisle, the energizing anonymous compliment about the charm of our decorated bike basket. Halloween supercharges these moments of connection and community. Imagine living in a neighborhood designed to support more moments of spontaneous conversation and joy every day.

This holiday empowers us with the ability to reclaim space for people, not cars, for freedom of movement.

Halloween: A Mobility Story

What makes a neighborhood great for trick-or-treating can teach us about what makes a neighborhood great, period. Trick-or-treating is at its best when kids, families, and friends move however they choose on well-lit sidewalks separated from cars. Homes are near each other and surrounded by the bustling communal activity of people knocking on doors, admiring spooky decorations, and chatting with friends, new and old. We want these features to be a part of our neighborhoods every day. When you slow down, whether you’re walking or rolling, you can appreciate the details of the world around you. You can savor the creativity and art of your neighborhood each day, not just during special holidays. It’s hard to embrace the sensory and personal joys of experience and motion in a vehicle. A neighborhood designed for people encourages giving and receiving. You're physically interacting with people you may pass by often but not really stop to engage with. You gravitate towards the spaces that are easiest to access and interact with. You may even see them in a new light (or festively illuminated darkness) that gives a new meaning to the space. While the joy of reclaiming public space for people instead of cars is one of Halloween’s brightest points, not every neighborhood is like this. Children are three times more likely to be fatally injured by a car on Halloween than any other night of the year. This is largely because of car-centric design. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Creativity and decoration activates private places into community spaces on Halloween.

Halloween: An Open Space Story

Is there any other day or night of the year you feel comfortable knocking on strangers’ doors? Halloween invites people into each other’s private spaces, transforming them briefly into communal places to gather, chat, and connect. As social creatures, we need more shared public spaces where participation doesn’t hinge on the ability to pay. Not just parks but flexible spaces, no matter how big or small, for people to sit and take a deep breath, listen to music or a podcast, and get out of their private dwellings and heads. From cozy plazas to elegant piazzas to the classic town square, communities can customize open space to their needs, land, and cultural and aesthetic identities. Whatever it looks like, we need more shared in-between spaces, the communal living rooms of daily and civic life.

Trick-or-treat? No, really!

We need to bring more of the elements of Halloween’s beloved activity of trick-or-treating to our everyday lives — including how we build neighborhoods and cities, so the shared delights of community, mobility, and open space are the rule, not the exception. We know communities can bring these core needs into their fabric with low-cost, high-impact designs and programming. No tricks, just treats. With our partners in Tempe, this is at the heart of what we’re trying to do at Culdesac. We want to design someplace better and show the world what’s possible when we prioritize community, mobility, and open space. When we prioritize people.