Does Your Neighborhood Pass the Popsicle Test?
Wondering where to move that'll be pleasant and safe and suit you at all stages of life, from youth through old age? (Or, you city planners out there: Are you trying to create a place like that?) It's easy! Just see whether your neighborhood passes the Popsicle test.
Popsicle test? It's this: In your neck of the woods, is it possible for an 8-year-old to buy a Popsicle on his or her own and return before it has completely melted? If so, chances are it'll be a good place to live.
Well, first of all, if a kid can get around on his own, that means the streets must be pretty safe. There are probably sidewalks or wide shoulders to walk on -- things that benefit all pedestrians. And the intersections must not pose a big threat, either. There are probably stop signs, or the traffic lights are red long enough for a dawdler to make it all the way from one side to the other. All of which means that parents pushing strollers and seniors pushing walkers can make it across, too.
Then, too, if a third-grader can hoof it to the store, that probably means that the stores aren't so far away from the houses that shopping requires a car. That's good news for anyone too young, too old or too poor to drive one. And neighborhoods that encourage walking end up being friendlier, just by virtue of street life. You can run into your neighbors if you're walking. You can run OVER them if you're driving.
If one local kid feels fine about walking outside, you can bet there are other kids doing the same thing. I know that I can't get my kids to go outside unless they see someone about their age drifting by the window. And even then, the prospect of getting a Popsicle would provide the final push. A body in motion tends to remain in motion, especially if that body belongs to a child. I once read an article that said the presence of children playing outside indicates the health of a neighborhood. I buy it.
Meantime, if the parents feel safe enough to let their kids walk to the store, now you're talking about a neighborhood that believes it is not rife with crime. Some neighborhoods truly are dangerous and require a different set of considerations. But a lot of people think their neighborhoods are more dangerous than they really are. Remember: The majority of Americans surveyed by Gallup believe that crime is going up, even though it has been going down for decades. Parents in Popsicle neighborhoods would seem to have a less inflated sense of doom.
Parents letting their kids fetch frozen treats also trust their community not to treat them as "negligent" -- a problem that seems to be increasing as children evaporate from the public landscape. As the founder of Free-Range Kids, I often hear from parents being investigated by the cops or child protective services simply because they let their children play outside or walk to soccer practice. But in a neighborhood where lots of kids are out and about, relaxed parents aren't seen as crazy. They're seen as normal, as they should be. And that renormalizes the neighborhood.
When kids are allowed outside, a neighborhood comes back to life. And when a street is alive with neighbors, the oldest among them are safer and happier, too. Like everyone else, they can take a walk, have a social life and buy some groceries (or have the 8-year-old buy them). They can be part of the scene instead of sitting inside, isolated and scared.
Kids and Popsicles go together -- along with old people, middle-aged people, dogs, scooters, bikes, wheelchair users and teens who won't leave Facebook unless there's a party on the street. The Popsicle test is worth a look (and lick!).