Passing the Popsicle Test

Hi Readers — How I love this post by Scot Doyon, “Smart Growth = Smart Parenting,” on a blog called PlaceShakers, which bills itself as “people, news and views shaping community.”

As you know, I think community is pretty much the answer to all our ills. The more we trust and depend on each other, the more confident we feel Free-Ranging our kids, the more fun we have in our lives, the more our streets teem with  life and the less lonely we become.

Add to this the dawning realization on the part of city planners that when a neighborhood works for kids, it works for everyone else, too and you get why it is so important to try to build cities and towns that pass the “Popsicle Test.”

Popsicle Test? It’s simply, brilliantly this: A neighborhood “works” if it is possible for an 8-year-old kid to get a Popsicle on his or her own and return before it has completely melted.

That means the streets must be safe enough to cross and the housing close enough to retail. The kids must feel fine about walking outside, ditto their parents (and the police! and busybodies!).  Once all that is in place, not only can children get around on their own, so can everyone else, including old folks.

Note, as does Kaid Benfeld in The Atlantic’s blog regarding the icy treat test:

…there’s no planning jargon in there: nothing explicitly about mixed uses, or connected streets, or sidewalks, or traffic calming, or enough density to put eyes on the street. But, if you think about it, it’s all there.

I’m also fond of the “Halloween test”: If it’s a good neighborhood for trick-or-treating, then it’s likely to be compact and walkable. My brother-in-law, who lives in a place that is anything but, drives his kids to the nearest traditional town center on Halloween. Quite a few parents seem to do the same thing by driving to my neighborhood.

As we have pointed out before: The presence of kids outside indicates a good place to live. And the presence of Popsicles? Even better. Which reminds me…it is snack time right now. — L

I KNOW this isn't a Popsicle emporium. But it looked too good to pass up! (Like a Popsicle itself.)

102 Responses

  1. I’m so happy!! My neighborhood passes the Popsicle Test!

  2. If a child has to go outside during the summer in Phoenix to get a popsicle, there is no chance they can get home before it melts. If the popsicle is in the house, the chance goes up to 50/50.

  3. I think mine would pass the test were it not 100 degrees today!!

  4. My neighborhood passes as well as long as it’s not too hot lol.. I love this example!

  5. I love this! Unfortunately my subdivision would not pass 😦 There are tons of kids running around, nice sidewalks, etc. but we are far from any retail area. The nearest gas station is a few miles away and across an interstate highway. But when the ice cream man comes around the kids raid their piggy banks and run through the neighborhood to find him and come home with Popsicles, so maybe that counts 🙂

  6. Yesterday I used up all my Sanity Points reading the comments on an news article about ‘food deserts’ in my state (most of them are tiny, thankfully). It’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of hostility to the idea of improving neighborhoods this way.

  7. I’m glad you are talking about this issue. I really think the movement since the 1950s towards development that is designed exclusively with the automobile in mind has been one of the largest contributors to the endangered species status of the “free range kid”.

    Suburban style planning (isolated residential “pods” removed at a significant distance from retail, schools, parks, etc., connected by high-speed streets with no sidewalks) leaves children and teenagers completely dependent on their parents to chauffeur them via car wherever they need or want to go. That’s OK for a five year old, but increasingly burdensome and stifling as children get older.

    It’s one of the main reasons I have chosen to raise my children in the city. When my son is 10, I want him to be able to get himself to the park for sports practice or whatever (and he is more likely to be involved in that sort of activity if he doesn’t need to work it out with my schedule as well as his own). When he’s 15, there’s really no reason that he should need to beg me for a ride to go see a movie or go hang out at a cafe with his friends. It really is infantilizing a young adult by denying them the ability to get themselves around their town. And that’s what automobile-oriented design does to children and teenagers.

  8. Interesting test, although I have to say that being in the popular neighborhood for trick or treating is something of a drag when you get too many kids. Ours gets so flooded that you can’t enjoy seeing the kids’ costumes, sit down for a minute waiting for kids to come or chatting even briefly with the parents you know. We need more kid friendly neighborhoods in our area, so the kids will spread out.

    Sad part is, kids still don’t really play outside here without their parents. It’s just the “in” neighborhood for Halloween. I’m assuming it’s the sidewalks, as some other parts of town are a bit short on sidewalks, but the crowds are so bad my kids get less candy than they have in quieter neighborhoods because everyone runs out so fast. And don’t get me started on the parents who drive their kids through the neighborhood for trick or treat. Yes, house to house.

    As for getting a popsicle, I would love to be just a little closer for that. A mile isn’t bad, but it would be better if there were more kids out so mine could have the fun of getting treats with a group of friends.

  9. We aren’t close to retail, but all of the kids run around the whole neighborhood and they know my freezer is full of popsicles. I regularly clean popsicle wrappers out of my flower pots and out from behind the bushes. Guess that makes us the popsicle house. Sure beats being known as the house where the crazy lady with all the cats lives.

  10. I sympathize with the idea, but I don’t really want to live that close to retail … I would like to be within walkable distance of (some) retail, but in my book that would be perhaps a 1/2 mile — no way a popsicle could survive that in this climate. I’m more inclined to want my kid to be within “popsicle” distance of a playground (check), school (check), and library (check). As for Jesse’s point, at 15 — and hopefully sooner — mine can ride the bus (or his bike) to get to the cafe, live music, and (some) movies.

  11. I would always want to be within popsicle range of a neighborhood store. My local 7-11 is 3 blocks. So we meet the popsicle test. I moved here purposely from somewhere that didn’t have sidewalks and you had to drive to get anywhere – including the park. Now we can walk to the park, school, to get coffee or a popsicle. But big retail is a bus or car drive away – which is fine by me – but not too far that older kids could bike to the stores or to watch a movie and I expect them to do just that. I’m not going to be driving them around unless the destination involves going on the freeway. For everything else they can walk, bike or take a bus.

  12. I was confused at first because I consider “getting a Popsicle” to mean walking to the fridge or at most the deep freeze downstairs. Took me a minute to realize you meant “buy a Popsicle.” the former is true for us but the latter is not. We used to live in such a place but foolishly moved. We miss it!

  13. I am confused about people saying a popsicle wouldn’t survive the walk back.
    1. Surely you start the popsicle as soon as you get it, so regardless you are going to be getting some of it.
    2. Learning to eat a popsicle (or ice cream) without getting it all over you as is melts is one of rights of passage.

    I learnt long ago that to get the ice cream (I’m in New Zealand, here it’s all about ice cream) eaten without mess, you have to keep licking up the melt around the bottom. Sadly it’s a lesson my English husband never learnt as a child so now he struggles to eat an ice cream cleanly.

  14. My neighborhood is a great trick-or-treat neighborhood, but our nearest place to buy a popsicle is the 7-11 about 10 minutes away on foot. Not sure we’d make it before the melt, particular in the summer. BUT…the ice cream man comes around several times a day thanks to the community pool that has adult swim for 15 minutes every hour!

    After reading about the no biking or walking to school mandates out there, I’m also happy to note that our local school actively discourages driving. We “walk and roll,” as the notices say. And at school pick up time, there A LOT of parents who have hoofed it in to get their kids. I see the older elementary kids locking up bikes and scooters, too. It’s all about relieving traffic congestion, honestly, but hey–if it works in free-range favor, I’m for it!

  15. Bronte,
    I never thought about having to “learn” how to eat an ice cream cone. Do they not really have them in England? (or was your husband just deprived??)

    Ice cream sandwiches, on the other hand. I can hardly make it through those before they melt all over and make a huge mess. 🙂

  16. Isn’t this basically the definition of a small town???:) Too bad they’re all disappearing!

  17. Nah, not the definition of a small town necessarily. The definition of a neighborhood with accessible small businesses definitely. The last city I lived in, as well as this one, have these. This one moreso. I live in a large city now, but my neighborhood is almost entirely small businesses. Within that, I have walkable access to everything… groceries, coffee, pubs, movies, live music and, yes, popsicles. I’m sure NYC does as well, with the bodegas and such.
    I’ve actually lived in small towns where this was NOT possible.

  18. We have a great Halloween neighborhood, but the nearest shop with popsicles is a 20 minute walk. Sidewalks the whole way, though.

  19. […] Continued here: Passing the Popsicle Test […]

  20. @bogart — the trick to living “that” close to retail is to define retail differently! I live in an older inner-city neighborhood with small retail clusters (a coffee shop, corner store, pharmacy, the like) about six blocks in any direction. Because this is a walkable neighborhood and these are not big-box outlets, this does not increase traffic or cause parking problems at all. If anything, it decreases it.

    We’d probably get back without the popsicle melting….but we’d’ve eaten it enroute!

  21. @Sarah We Kiwi’s love our ice cream (Seriously. We have really good quality ice cream and are one of the highest per capita eaters of ice cream in the world). Ice cream here is thick and creamy and hard(ish). We’re not talking McDonalds style soft serve.

    When we get ice cream we tend to get a couple of scoops. Good sized ones, and stuffed down inside the cone. Then there are the optional thick chocolate coats. Add to all this intense sunshine. (We are under the Ozone hole) and ice creams can melt fast on a summers day of about 28-33C (granted maybe not that hot by southern US standards, but again super intense sunshine) There is a knack of getting the ice cream eaten before it melts all over your hand, shirt, shorts, and melts through the cone.

    My husband having grown up in England has a number of disadvantages.
    1. They just don’t eat as much ice cream there
    2. Cones don’t seem to be as big a thing so Ice cream’s arn’t as big
    3. England has pansy weak sunshine so there’s a bigger window to eat in.

    The first time he had a NZ style ice cream it was a messy business.

    Again with ice cream sandwiches (which aren’t nearly as awesome as cones, and use a softer ice-cream) the trick is to keep licking around the melt line, turning the sandwich round and round in your hand.

  22. We don’t pass the test, but we live in the “country”. We aren’t scared of small neighborhood villages like you describe, but we wanted to be out where we can see deer/turkeys, ect… in our 9 acre yard, and we love the peace and quiet. It is a trade-off, but our kids learn some independence running in the woods, playing in the river and all that.

  23. Bronte, I agree its an art to eating the ice cream cone, licking the drips off the bottom of the scoop, and pushing it down from the top with your tongue when its a 2 or 3 scooper so it doesn’t fall off lol. Happy childhood memories of car trips to central Otago 🙂

    Our neighborhood would pass the popsicle test, but my two would probably go to the bakery next door to the dairy instead 🙂

  24. our neighborhood would win!
    we have popsicles everywhere n
    shaved ice carts. ice cream…..

  25. wow. This subject opens up a whole new can o’ woims.
    Most boomers wouldn’t recollect a popsicle test if it came up and bit them in the behind.
    That’s because as boomers – they didn’t test popsicles, they just ate them – constantly and everywhere. On their own, in good humor, and completely self-actualized absorption.

    One can discover inside a strange and lovely little book by James Howard Kunstler (The Geography of Nowhere) a particular passage in a specific chapter – the dramatic beginnings of haunted realization that what we’ve built over the last 50 years “Just for the kids, honey” wasn’t for the kids at all. Not on your life. It was to sell the maximum automotive-related profit that BigBizBoyz could wring out of our sad and sorry religion of “fee” enterprise. (no that’s not a typo)
    70% of this nation doesn’t raise kids in anything romotely promoting free range. Take a good look at suburbia and you’ll know what I mean.
    Or better yet, walk around a bit….

    It’s nice to see that some people are indeed, finally waking up to this fact. It’s encouraging, euphoric, even, to see them demanding change. I love it. I’m all for it. I wouldn’t raise a kid in suburbia if you paid me large to do it. Thankfully, I never had to. No income could ever replace the freedom mine had – not to test popsicles, just go around the corner to the store and waste time returning home again (long after the popsicle had been consumed.)

    So after we’ve tested the popsicles, can we please test the sanity of the charlatans who dumped child-unfriendly living arrangements that are not sustainable (check your gas prices when lil’ junior finally graduates high school and get back to me…) and yanked the logical growing process of independent engagement with the public realm right out of the normal socializing processes of childhood?

    I’d love to sic a few million real bored kids on ’em……………

  26. Ten years ago when I was in the thick of it at a county planning agency, I would have said no way in hell are we ever going to get to a point that developers are going to build places that would pass the popsicle test. Developers didn’t want it, politicians didn’t want it and families didn’t seem to want it. Maybe it’s because I am not working in planning & have become less jaded, but I think the tide is beginning to turn. I think the increasing desire of parents wanting to raise kids free range is certainly related…. it’s all part of the same movement/awareness. The problem is partly, or perhaps largely, with my (old) profession. There rules forbidding places like this are institutionalized now. In my old neighborhood, which would have passed this test for the most part, there were people who decried the continued commercialization of one of the collector roads in the neighborhood. They seemed to like the existing bakery, pizza pub, gift shop, school etc… but didn’t want more neighborhood friendly business to move in. I didn’t understand that… it wasn’t like Lowe’s & Wal-Mart were going to plop down on a 40ft lot between two 1920s era craftsman houses. There’s a mindset out there that has to change, an hypocrisy that must be unveiled.

  27. My 3 year old is constantly across the street at the neighbors house knocking on the door asking for a popsicle. Does that count?

  28. @Frances, sure, but … I don’t, in fact, want to live with the population density that, I suspect you live with. Which, don’t get me wrong, we could do much better even in relatively less dense parts of the US than we do (in terms of grouping residential and retail), but even so.

    I dunno, I live in a neighborhood where we have ~3/4 acre lots each holding a ~2,000 square ft. home and this is about ideal for me. Also a number of (much denser than we are) apartment complexes in the vicinity. We’re within a mile of (a) a cafe/basic groceries sort of establishment and (b) the dreaded US strip mall — a relatively decent one, but still (and, in fairness, no big box stores — one grocery store that is part of a major national chain, two banks, one Latino credit union, one gas station, two locally owned restaurants, one local small-animal vet, one local martial arts business, a smallish five-and-dime (also a chain), and a great local pastry shop). Unfortunately getting to that requires crossing a five-lane road, albeit with crosswalks, lights, and bike lanes. But I can take my dog out for a walk in the evening and if I hear a car, that is it. I. hear. a. car. Driving by. And then once it is gone, I don’t hear car traffic. Until the next car comes by, but not as constant background noise (presence, etc.). And the neighborhood one over from us backs onto an extensive public forest area (probably roughly 3/4 mile by 2 miles) that — for now — is undeveloped. I’ll take that over popsicles, though I do realize there are genuine downsides (environmentally, etc.) to the sprawl so common in the US.

  29. I love this example, and I love my popsicle friendly neighborhood. But there are several problems in developing new popsicle friendly neighborhoods. One is the NIMBY problem. No one wants to live next to the 7-11. And the 7-11 wants to be near auto traffic, which means it is likely on a street where it isn’t safe for kids to walk. Another problem is a chicken-egg problem. Suppose you don’t want a 7-11, you want a neighborhood candy store that mostly caters to pedestrians. New neighborhoods don’t have the density of pedestrians needed to support stores for pedestrians, but w/o the stores, of course, you never get the pedestrians. My neighborhood is a tourist destination, so half of our pedestrians are imported. They stay in the downtown hotels and walk up and down our waterfront while enjoying icecream cones from one of our three ice cream shops. But my little supermarket limps along from year to year, and I doubt it will last much longer.

  30. Never heard of the popsicle test before. Very interesting. Our neighborhood does not pass because we live in the suburbs and the more rural suburbs at that. We do have a really cute local corner grocery store that is in walking distance but you have to go back through the neighborhood out of your way and cut through the elementary school to get there safely. No sidewalks and no place to even walk on the side of the road unless you want to be way up in someone’s yard which I don’t feel comfortable doing unless I know them.

    I plan on walking the boys down there when they are older and showing them the route and once they got it, then they can venture it on their own to go buy a candy bar or whatever.

    I remember when I was a kid I walked way way further to our closest corner gas station. Again no sidewalks but we at least had a walking area on the side of the road. I would cut through yards and neighborhoods to get there and would pick up my friend that lived nearby. I enjoyed doing that and want my boys to do the same.

  31. As a mid-20s single lady, I have my own way of determining if a neighborhood is suitable–before signing a lease, I go to the neighborhood at 6 am. If I count at least six women my age jogging then it’s acceptably safe.

    If those women are not in running gear, and seem to in fact be being chased, I continue my search.

  32. We just moved from San Diego (wound’t pass) to someplace (I won’t say where, I don’t want you all to move here) that would. It’s a buy 4-way crosswalk, but I’ve seen 6YOs do it alone.

    I’m amazed at the neighborhood here. My Realtor laughed when I asked about all the bike racks at the school. Yes, lots of kids ride bikes. And I’d guess that there’s no helmet law, because few kids wear them.Looks like 4YOs ride bikes with no training wheels. Actually, can’t say I’ve seen any training wheels.

    I got bored watching my 4 and 6 YOs at the park- lots of kids, no Moms. My kids fight with each other a lot, or I’d be happy to leave them. And I did leave my 4 YO a few houses away, sent the 6YO to get him for dinner. She returned saying “HE’S NOT THERE!!!!!!”. My reaction? whatever, you must be confused, we don’t live in that kind of neighborhood. And yes, he was fine, he was at the splash pad, vice the sand pit where she looked).

    All’s well. And here’s hoping that every neighborhood passes the test!

  33. Ah, well, my house fails the Popsicle Test, but it’s a casualty of suburban sprawl in the 1980s. (Can it be called “suburban” if the town is actually quite small?) We’re too far from any convenience stores or other shops for a popsicle to survive, as we’re a 30 minute walk from even the residential edge of town. But, the township did put in a nice walking trail from the schools to the West all the way into town.

    I don’t see many kids playing outside in the sub behind us or the next one down, but I’m not sure of the reason. I don’t see many children’s toys/ bikes/ etc, either and instead see what may be extra cars in the driveway. Most of the neighbors we’ve met are retired and/ or have grown children, having purchased these homes when their kids were young, oh, 20 years ago. With the economy crappy, most of them are staying put in hopes of getting a better sale price later– a price few young folks with kids can afford.

  34. We would flunk the popsicle test, but would pass the Halloween test.

  35. Would we pass the popsicle test but our babies are still too young to really put it to the test. 🙂

  36. My neighborhood would pass this test with flying colors. Well, except for the sidewalks thing. But traffic is low enough that they aren’t really necessary, and everyone understands if kids end up walking on their lawns.

  37. Some of you are kind of missing the point of this. I think you also may be underestimating popsicles or perhaps you’re used to popsicles that are really small and wimpy. 🙂
    We live a little over 1/2 of a mile away from an ice cream shop in Las Vegas where it was 111 degrees today. My son has walked down there once or twice a week all summer and returned with the remnants of a melted ice cream cone or bomb pop each time. Frozen treats don’t immediately disintegrate in 100+ temperatures. If you don’t believe me, try going outside in the summer heat and eating one rather than just theorizing about in your air conditioned home.

  38. Just wanted to clarify that by remnants, I meant some of the popsicle is still clinging to the stick. That means he got home before it completely melted.

  39. I live in a neighborhood like Nanci’s. We do have the possibility of correcting that if the housing market improves. We have a fair amount of undeveloped land currently occupied by cows (tax break for land owner) that is zoned commercial on this side of the highway. So in 10 years or so (when we are living elsewhere most likely) our neighborhood will finally pass the test.

  40. Kate: We go outside in the heat everyday and often take popsicles. Mine like to eat theirs while playing in the kiddie pool. They melt pretty darn fast thus why I like them to eat them in the pool since it washes it right off of them. That was a pretty snarky comment too because it is like you are doubting our word and assuming we never take our kids outside which is bs.

  41. I am with Marianne. Our lot is only an acre, but it backs to a 150+ acre farm owned by my father. The nearest store of any kind is a convenience store 4 miles away. Nary a sidewalk in sight here. When I lived here as a kid, our parents drove us from house to house in the back of a pickup for trick-or-treating. I could easily dash to a neighbor’s house on foot (we’re on the edge of a row of houses… all on acre lots which is the minimum building lot out here) if I had to.

    But my kids don’t need to buy a popscicle to learn independence. When they’re older (they’re just babies now), they’ll learn it by walking the quarter of a mile across the field to the farmhouse, where they’ll catch minnows in the stream. Or they’ll go into the tree break in the soybean field, where I am sure they’ll play lots of imaginative games like war or spy or cops/robbers (if they’re anything like me, at least). Or they’ll ride their bikes down our country road to their grandpa’s house. They’ll also learn responsibility by taking on the duties of our chickens, which will also help them realize that I have faith in their ability to take on these responsibilities.

    A popscicle neighborhood sounds like a lovely place to live if you want to be in suburbia. But don’t entirely discount the independence and responsibility that can be fostered in a rural environment.

  42. We live in a rural area, so the closest store is 7 miles from our neighborhood. BUT, we would pass the popsicle test because our children can go outside and get popsicles from many of the neighbors! At any given time the 13 kids who live in this neighorhood, will be running from yard to yard, playing and eating popsicles from at least one of the neighbors. In fact, our next-door neighbors are retired and trying to sell their home. They have already told potential buyers that they must keep popsicles stocked in the freezer for the neighborhood kids!!!

  43. Our neighborhood passes the popsicle test. One reason we moved here is that the kids (and we) can walk to the store, library, movie theater, bowling alley, and several parks by themselves.

    My favorite book that makes this point is Suburban Nation

  44. Living in Manhattan, we could get a popsicle from store to home no problem…passing the popsicle test is dependent on if it is safe for an 8 year old to do it, here that would depend on the parent, some would say yes and some “no” (so it’s not just about popsicle store proximity).

    In some ways my, 7 year old has much more freedom outside (riding bikes, catching toads, etc) at my mom’s and my brother’s who live in small towns, but he couldn’t quite get a popsicle himself…rambling, but I guess I was trying to agree that both rural and city provide their own Free Range opportunities…

  45. One of our main criteria when buying a house a few years ago was that it had sidewalks and actual kids out playing. Our boys play in our cul-de-sac all day riding their trikes and our smallish neighborhood has 5 parks, 2 within a block of our home (1 in either direction). We just love it!

  46. […] Lenore of Free Range Kids suggests asking whether our local streets pass the “popsicle test.” In a recent post on his firm’s excellent blog, PlacesShakers and NewsMakers, Scott Doyon […]

  47. @Kacey, I do think the tide is beginning to turn. I cover local government and hear quite a bit about “walkable communities,” so much so that I had to add the word “walkable” to the dictionary of our word processing program. Both the community I cover (admittedly a very small village) and the larger city in which I live are revamping their zoning codes to encourage that sort of scenario. Unfortunately, due to weather, our communities are unwalkable a good portion of the year by anyone who likes to stay warm, but I guess the goverments can’t do anything about that.

    My neighborhood would not quite pass the popsicle test (though it would if you raised the age to 10 or 12; the nearest convenient store is about a mile away) but it is an excellent neighborhood for Halloween. I give away about 5 pounds of candy a year!

  48. Depends how you define “get a popsicle.” There are a few places within 1/2 mile where you could buy a *box* of popsicles, (Walmart, Dollar General) but I’m not sure there’s anywhere you could buy a single one. Dollar General might have them — I’ve never looked. I’ve never been much into buying single-serve treats for economic reasons, so I’m not really up on where you’d obtain such a thing, other than something like a treat shop (nothing like that anywhere near here) or a convenience store (not too far, but not really in 8 year old range.) Yes, I live in a neighborhood where Walmart is more convenient than a convenience store!

  49. Oh, that’s right, there is a small gas station/convenience store close by that I never think about because it’s less convenient than both the Walmart and the supermarket, it’s tiny, and I always buy gas at a different place. So that probably does pass, assuming they have popsicles.

  50. I don’t think that this article is intended to rag on people living in rural areas (although, given that the US is 85% urbanized, I think it’s understandable if articles written for people in the US don’t pay much attention to rural areas).

    I think it just is intended to criticize places that are neither twixt nor tween, not urban enough for any of the benefits of living in a city (easy proximity to everything!) nor rural enough for any of THOSE benefits (your neighbors may be far away, but you know all of them (?), and you have plenty of your own land and space).

    It’s not the best of both worlds, it’s the worst of them.

  51. Interesting. My neighborhood would sort of pass the popsicle test. There is a convenience store that likely sells popsicles within easy walking distance but not the 2 or 3 blocks before the popsicle is gone. However, my neighborhood is not a good kid neighborhood at all (and we fail the Halloween test miserably). There are just not many kids, unless you include those in college. Should the housing market ever improve, I want to sell my house and move one neighborhood over which passes both tests. Still don’t see kids out without parents much. The parents even walk them the two blocks to school.

  52. We fail the popsicle test. The closest retail store is about 1.5 miles away and there are portions of that distance that do not have sidewalks. The kids have asked to ride their bikes there by themselves and, so far, I have not let them because of no sidewalks on a busy street. I would be fine with their walking to the store, but that does not appeal to them as much.

    We pass the Halloween test.

  53. Its an interesting thought. But why do you need to live that close for a kid to go get a Popsicle? I live close enough to retail that kids (of which there are tons in my neighborhood) should feel comfortable enough to go buy one (or better yet – frozen custard from the shop right down the street) – but it would be gone before they got back. No way you are going to let it melt while you walk back. I can’t imagine a kid buying a Popsicle and not eating it right away. We are a good neighborhood for trick-or-treating though.

  54. I live in a neighbor hood that would pass the popsicle test and the halloween test but still isn’t really pedestrian friendly. The handful of people in the neighborhood who are wheelchair-bound have to roll in the street because the sidewalks are too narrow, uneven and obstructed by fire hydrants and light posts. They are useless for the frail and elderly, hazardous to the blind and a flat out pain for everyone else.

    I’d like to amend the popsicle test to be an 8-year-old in a wheelchair. Then you would really know if the neighborhood worked for everyone.

  55. On a mild tangent, the first time I ever ate a mango, it was peeled and frozen and on a stick. I was 13 years old. I had purchased it from a street vendor in the Old Market in Matamoras, Mexico which I was roaming around without adult supervision. As I recall, when my parents told me when and where to meet them the only warning I was given was “Don’t buy any switchblade knives, we have to go back through Customs.”

  56. I live in the subrubs. I don’t want to be that close to a retail area. But my kids can do precisely what I did when I grew up in the suburbs: Hop on their bikes, bike 1.5 miles to the strip mall, eat their popsicle there, and then bike back. Maybe go see a movie first.

  57. We live in the country no where near walking distance to any sort of retail. My kids play in the great outdoors everyday. There are meadows, flowers, woods to explore, a stream, little animals and butterflies, and there are a few neighbors of different ages close enough they can visit. If they want a popcycle there are plenty in our freezer. 😉 Honestly I don’t think kids need to live close to retail so they can spend their allowance and pay to be entertained in order to grow up well adjusted. My kids have their imaginations and lots of time to explore outdoors and play together and with neighbors of all ages and I wouldn’t trade those for the ability to walk to a convienence store for anything.

  58. My house would pass if my husband let the kids go 🙂 Love this idea…my dad told me about the popsicle index, a way to measure a town. When you look at investing in a town, building something or changing something, electing someone…you ask whether it raises or lowers the popsicle index, whether a kid can walk to get a popsicle safely, no mention of the melting 🙂

  59. We passed the popsicle test until this past week, when our little neighbourhood corner store closed down due to lack of business. Everyone drives 20 minutes to Walmart. So now my son and daughter are deprived of their (almost daily in the summer sometimes) ice cream/popsicles runs which they, at 5 and 8 years old, loved so much. Makes me sad.

  60. Sadly my neighborhood does not pass the popsicle test. But my childhood one did. Interesting because that one is somewhat ghetto now and the one we live in is probably considered upscale. 😦

    It is however, a good neighborhood for trick or treating. So that is something.

    Love your blog… keeps me sane and grounded. Unlike the majority of parents around me.

  61. LOVE IT!!!!

  62. Like it. But here in Philly, instead of popsicles, the kids would have to get water ice. Which they do, and on their own just fine. 🙂


    Wasn’t sure where to put this, I don’t twitter.

  64. This only makes sense for urban communities. In a rural area, a kid could be totally free-range but wouldn’t be able to make it to anywhere to shop on foot.

  65. If your kid is is going to any store without supervision odds are they wont be allowed in the store more than 2 at a time.

    And I SURE wouldnt allow more than that when i was a security guard.
    Kids un supervised are prone to do things that will have them escorted by police off the premises.

    Parents Please attend your children so they do not disrupt my store Steal from my store or otherwise. Please stop assuming your children are angels out side of your sight.

  66. Hey, joe, how about you assume that our children aren’t devils when they are outside of our sight too?

    “odds are they wont be allowed in the store more than 2 at a time.”

    Really? Where is this, because it certainly isn’t true around here. I can think of only one store that has a limit on the number of young people they will allow inside at once, and it is right next door to a middle school. The rule has been in place for over 20 years, and is respected by the students who line up to be allowed in – and they are allowed in FIVE at a time.

    I am told by many of the business people who interact with my daughter – from cab drivers to local store owners – that they appreciate her business. In fact, cab drivers tell me that she used to be the only one her age that tipped… but that with her good example her friends are starting to do it too.

    I am rightfully proud that she has learned appropriate behaviour in public from not only me but also the store owners who she interacts with.

  67. I’d could assume that Jynet but I was a security guard in 4 different convinience stores (various Rite Aid and Walgreens) . 2 different malls and was shot by a 15 year old While guarding a used car lot over night, and when I was 14 I got the pleasure of ressuitate another 14 year old that passed and was turning blue from huffing glue behind the hardware store I was working in. BTW he was my classmate in homeroom he later assaulted me for my meager 150 dollar pay check. And then he OD’ed our senior year. And was celebrated for being a party animal.

    As an adult I also have been sued because little johnny twisted his ankle in my front yard and little suzie had tripped and scraped her knee. (I’m glad I have good home owners insurance) Ive had swastikaz painted on my house and my car keyed. I’ve had little clara’s mother screaming on my door step because her little nitwit got dog pooh on his shoes when she was in my yard without permission.

    Yea kids are monsters when they arn’t watched.

  68. Janyt your daughter is the rare exception. Not the rule. Most of your children on this board probably ARE.

  69. […] freedoms that this creates for parents and kids alike has led to the Free Range Kids Movement and the idea of a […]

  70. I don’t know why you’re here, Joe, but my kids are not monsters at any time, and no one here needs your permission to let their kids go to a store to buy a popsicle.

  71. Joe, I hope your employer doesn’t find out that you publicly discourage appropriately-behaved, paying customers from patronizing stores, as well as the troublemakers. They’d be most interested to find out, but I don’t think it would do your career much good.

    And I don’t have a problem with a store that wants to enforce 2 at a time. I can see the concerns there, especially in some neighborhoods, or in places that have a history with kids causing problems.

    But 2 at a time isn’t 0 at a time.

  72. Joe, the point is not that SOME kids are bad, or that SOME kids are good… but that kids run the same spectrum of good and bad as adults do.

    Even in one of your own examples you show one ‘good’ kid (you) and one ‘bad’ kid (the guy from your home room). Or do you want us to assume that you were also a bad kid, since you were the same home room (and therefore the same age) as the kid who tried to rob you?

    I agree pentamom, 2 at a time isn’t 0 at a time. If a store is having a particular problem with people of a certain age, then it is appropriate to restrict entry to a number that the store staff can watch more closely.

    Banning all people that age is missing out on a lot of income – even the store near the middle school in my city knows that. Those kids have a TON of cash. 5 at a time are easy to watch, while still allowing enough kids to get into the store during the average lunch/after school period to substantially increase the store’s income. They tried allowing only 2 at a time, but weren’t making enough money. Now they allow 5 and it seems to be working well for everyone.

  73. Joe, after working loss prevention for over a decade if you think kids are a bigger problem than the population at large you are failing your employer. You have a terrible attitude toward children and I have to wonder if the attitude didn’t precede many of the problems you complain of. Given your opinion, why would you even chose to come to this website? Do you enjoy reading things and engaging with people that irritate you?

  74. The trouble with most neighborhoods that pass the “popsicle test” are that you probably wouldn’t want your 8 year old walking around in them unsupervised anyway. I’m all for giving kids freedom, but let’s face it, some areas are just plain dangerous. Our first house was in a place like that; the “popsicle store” was two blocks away. When we moved in, it was perfect. In fact, my nephew was visiting one day (I think he was about 10) and I did send him down for a popsicle. But unfortunately, the area was taken over by drug dealers and crime is rampant, so we were lucky to move when we were still able to sell.

    Second home? Oh, very very very far from passing the test, though there were bunches of kids around. Problem with having bunches of kids around is that they don’t always get along and you’re stuck with them anyway. And their parents can be a pain too. Our idyllic cul-de-sac resembled nothing less than a soap opera, with affairs, drug use, one mom hauled off in cuffs–and it was a fairly affluent area.

    Now we live in a small town, but on a rural road. It’s quiet but the kids can’t ride bikes anywhere or walk home from school. My son has a friend on the other side of a 30-acre corn field and I let him cross that. But for riding bikes and walking, you’ve got to consider safety, and if we had sidewalks that’d be fine, but we don’t. The school is maybe 10 minutes away from our house but there’s no safe way to get there.

    However, I am home with them; I have a home office, so I am available to drive them wherever they need to go. I realize your philosophy is all about letting kids wander and trusting they’ll come to no harm, and I agree with that in theory. But my way also nurtures family ties. There are other ways to foster independence in your child than simply letting them wander the neighborhood.

    I have noticed that our town has become more pedestrian friendly ever since the school district cut busing. Suddenly some of these neighborhoods that weren’t considered walkable, now are. The city is making it more bike friendly too. A very positive sign, I think, born out of a recession.

  75. I took for granted living in a neighborhood where kids were able to play outside and it makes me profoundly sad to walk or bike around my safe neighborhood and not see kids. They’re around buy stuck inside and not even allowed to play inn their front yards (or the park across the street from their front yards). Yes, I have learned that kids outside is a litmus test for a good place to live…now I want to find such a place.

  76. This is entirely unrealistic. The test may work for city living, but rural suburbs just don’t have enough retail. Stores tend to be centrally located and there are just too many people to expect the sort of close-living that this article requires.

    Keep in mind, too, that traffic increases the closer one gets to retail. Even though it’s a short 3-mile walk to our local university, or in the other direction to a coffee shop and gas station, the roads are extremely busy and I wouldn’t like to walk along some of them myself. People drive entirely too fast, but this is a national problem and isn’t going to change without some unpopular state and town policies.

    Can this be fixed at a town planning level? No. Towns are facing increasing costs as it is, and it’s legally impossible to change many of the zoning laws that exist for already developed areas. These two hurdles quickly drop these nice-to-haves off the town improvements list.

  77. “Joe, after working loss prevention for over a decade if you think kids are a bigger problem than the population at large you are failing your employer. ”

    Oh, wow, I didn’t even think of that! LOL @ the idea that kids in particular are a problem.

  78. Oh and here’s another one that’s just funny. It has the baby knee pads in it.

  79. Tom, it’s not entirely unrealistic. For one thing, as I mentioned up above, this nation is 85% urbanized. For dozens of comments to go “Well, it won’t work in rural areas!” is pointless. Most of the country doesn’t live in or near a rural area, and it’s obviously not TALKING about rural areas.

    Nor is the article talking about changing zoning laws, although I’m not entirely sure that’s impossible, though it may be difficult or expensive. It’s talking about how to choose a neighborhood to live in, because most people are going to continue to choose to live somewhere not in a rural area.

  80. Also, another off-topic link:

    This one is on unaccompanied minor rules in airlines, and how unaccompanied they can be.

  81. “For dozens of comments to go “Well, it won’t work in rural areas!” is pointless”

    Uly, although a few comments may have sounded like this, I think a lot of those comments, from what I read, were making the point that some of us would RATHER raise our kids in a rural environment. Obviously, though, not everyone has the luxury of choosing to live rural or not and unfortunately not even which neighborhood, sometimes. Sometimes the only choice is a popcycle neighborhood with high crime rates or a nice suburbian area with no retail close by, (which I still don’t see how that keeps kids from playing free range outside with others. It only keeps them from spending money.) 😉

  82. Well, Uly, Lenore did say this:

    “Add to this the dawning realization on the part of city planners that when a neighborhood works for kids, it works for everyone else, too and you get why it is so important to try to build cities and towns that pass the “Popsicle Test.”

    So there’s some sense that application by planners is one of the desired outcomes.

    However, I agree that we need not throw the whole thing out if it’s impractical in that application for whatever reason. It’s still a useful way of looking at things for other purposes — where to live, what *can* be done where possible, etc.

  83. Elizabeth, I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but I think the comparison intended is not “places where you can buy a popsicle vs. places where such things are available” so much as “places where a kid can safely go, on his own, to buy a popsicle, vs. places where the popsicles might exist but are inaccessible to unsupervised children because of conditions.” IOW not rural vs. neighborhoods near retail, but neighborhoods near retail where kids can safely have this kind of freedom vs. neighborhoods near retail where they can’t.

    It’s not so much that rural areas “fail” this test as that they’re outside of what’s being tested entirely.

  84. ARGHHH — that should be “places where you can buy a popsicle vs. places where NO such things are available”

  85. God, I HATED unaccompanied minor programs when I was a child.

  86. Pentamom, thanks. You always manage to make sense, you know that?

    The comments just tap into a common annoyance of mine and it hit my frustration level – you post something about cities or suburbs, or make one comment about public transportation, and then people go “But – farms!” and while I like farms as much as the next person, I don’t think the needs of farmers are a good reason for those of us who don’t live in rural areas to not take our own needs into consideration.

    And I do think it’s reasonable, given how few people, comparatively speaking, live in rural areas, to talk about how to improve NON-RURAL areas without 15% of the population going “Well, I live in a rural area, and that wouldn’t help me…!” Not everything can apply to everybody, and if I read something about helping farmers out I wouldn’t go “Well, I live in a city, how does this article help ME?”

    Sometimes the only choice is a popcycle neighborhood with high crime rates or a nice suburbian area with no retail close by, (which I still don’t see how that keeps kids from playing free range outside with others. It only keeps them from spending money.) 😉

    Well, crime isn’t the only thing that makes places unsafe or undesirable for kids. Lack of sidewalks or good, pedestrian-friendly traffic planning (or even bike-friendly!) can make it hard for kids to get around without a car, even to visit a friend. Lack of easy, walkable access to amenities like libraries, playgrounds, public pools, schools, etc. can keep kids from getting to those places under their own steam – or using them at all! (Well, except for schools, but it can keep them from using schools as anything OTHER than schools, no after-school clubs or anything.) Sprawling suburbs can mean that a simple after-school activity, instead of taking 45 minutes out of the day, takes twice as long once you add in travel time. That can mean that after-school activity keeps you from playing with friends on those days, and different children having different schedules can keep people from playing with each other even when they’re home.

  87. Of course you could always choose to homeschool, like we do. There’s nothing more free range friendly. 🙂 (And before someone argues, I do realize that in some families both parents have to work all day just to put food on the table. But there are many other families where this IS a reasonable choice, and what a blessing it is!)

  88. There are also some families (NOT the majority of homeschoolers by any stretch, I know) who homeschool specifically to isolate their children. But that’s not a fault of homeschooling, it’s a fault of the parents.

  89. True, Uly, but she did say “Free Range Friendly,” not “you can’t physically help do anything but be Free Range.” 😉

    I would concur that homeschooling is the most Free Range friendly lifestyle in the sense that it has the widest possibilities for it, should you choose to avail yourself of them. But that’s not to say that other options are exactly “Free Range Hostile” — it’s just a relative advantage.

  90. I also want to chime in and praise rural life and the benefits to kids and free range. My mom lives in the country and my kids LOVE going there! They get to run in the fields without having to worry about cars. They see natural wildlife in their own backyard. It is quiet and you can see the starts at night clearly. They get to explore the woods. They get to ride around the woods in a Gator vehicle. When they are older than can ride their own ATV or dirt bike or whatever around,

    We all know how important nature is to kids. Rural kids get nature in abundance everyday and the fact that the closest store is a 30 minute drive away really does not matter.

  91. True, Uly, but she did say “Free Range Friendly,” not “you can’t physically help do anything but be Free Range.” 😉

    I just like to be complete.

    I also want to chime in and praise rural life and the benefits to kids and free range.

    Oh sure. Rural life can be great. City life can be great. I really think the only problem is with people who neither live in the country nor in a city. Nothing to do one way or another.

  92. Uly: agreed on city life being able to be good too. But don’t knock the suburbs either. Every area has its bad points and good points. The suburbs don’t have shops nearby or some don’t but they also have nice neighborhoods filled with middle class families with kids and dogs that can form an community. I live in the suburbs and we are between the super rural area and the more city area. So we can go either direction and get to either area. I like living right in the middle.

    Our neighborhood is filled with other middle class families most of them with kids and pets, etc. I know my neighbors. We all have big yards to play in and the streets are not really dangerous since it is just the residents driving to the houses in the subdivision on the roads. Kids do go outside to play, not all the kids, but many do. It is quiet and safe and friendly. We have actually 3 police officers in our subdivison so I feel very safe that no one is going to start trouble in this neighborhood.

    So I think people just need to realize every area whether it be super rural, semi rural, urban, suburbs, etc all have some positives and negatives and then decide where you want to live and make the best of it.

    See guys I can be very non partisan and judgmental about some things. : P Just kidding

  93. Okay, putting on my big girl boots, gathering up my strength:

    I agree with Dolly.

    There, I did it! 🙂

  94. […] caught the attention of Lenore Skenazy, champion of the Free Range Kids advocacy movement, who featured it on her own blog. That transitioned it to an idea less about planning and more about […]

  95. I live in an area that is somewhere between suburb and smaller city. It is definitely neither urban nor rural, and it sounds a lot like where Dolly lives. There’s plenty to do here, and we almost meet the popsicle test even. The nearest store that has sidewalks the whole way to get to it is a 20 minute walk. I walked that far to get a slushy when I was a kid, so I guess a kid could walk that far to get a popsicle. Suburban life can be great too. There are a lot of misconceptions about suburbs, and it’s a big hipster kind of thing to complain about, but it’s just another place to live.

  96. Hi Lenore,
    Gave this article a Hebrew version for your Israeli fans:

  97. Dear Free Rangers,
    I have just retured from taking my daughter to the local sports oval where there were hundreds of people of all aged doing spots/activities on this beautiful blue sky Brisbane day.
    I was playing with my daughter and there were several other 3 year olds with us on the sand pit.
    I decided to assist a little girll my daughter had befriended in digging in the sand when her mother approached with a look of horror “no you won’t’ and grabbed her daughter and told her not to go near any strange man.
    I hold a working with children card- its called a Blue Card in Queensland-its a requirement with my profession.
    As I write this i feel a huge sense of anger and frustration.I was the only male there, wonder if this had anything to do with it?
    Obviously this irrational behaviour is based on ignorance. Being so fearful in this very safe environment defies belief!

  98. […] thinking, that level of density cannot be good for helping neighbourhoods to pass the popsicle test. And I’m sure I read somewhere that Australia’s child obesity rates are growing faster than […]

  99. […] a shame that Putnam hasn’t looked at Trick or Treating as the ultimate embodiment of whether or not a neighborhood is safe or not; of whether or not a city is one that young parents should invest in purchasing a house. Having the […]

  100. […] ago, in my post announcing my visit to Australia, after Lenore Skenazy had mentioned it on her free range kids blog. I really like the concept. It neatly captures the key factors that shape children’s experiences […]

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