Matt Conti alerted me to this. More about Matt later, but for now, consider what he found.
Zillow.com is a real estate web site that appears to be growing in influence. It is filled with listings, but also celebrity real estate gossip and assessments of real estate industry health across the country. Recently it rated the top U.S. cities for their trick-or-treating appeal. Boston came in second, after San Francisco.
Then they dug deeper. The web site named the five best trick-or-treating neighborhoods within those cities. Not surprisingly, four of the five were in the downtown. Beacon Hill was the best, followed by West Roxbury, Charlestown, Back Bay and the North End. I’ve never been to West Roxbury on Halloween so I can’t judge if Zillow got it right there. But the point is that the attributes that make neighborhoods good places for trick-or-treaters are the same attributes that make for good neighborhoods in general—walkability, density and safety that create feelings of identity, trust and camaraderie.
On Halloween on Beacon Hill, several streets are closed between 4:30 and 8 p.m., and they are jammed with costumed kids and their keepers. A lighted pumpkin or an open door signals that the house is ready to receive trick-or-treaters. The folks passing out the candy, some say it is 40 pounds per household, are usually gussied up too. Doorways are decorated with cobwebs, bats, plastic rats, and ghoulish faces emitting scary sounds.
Charlestown traditionally starts out its ghosts and goblins with a frightful parade, allowing all the kids to show off their costumes, before they go begging.
The Back Bay celebrates Halloween mostly at the Clarendon Street Playground and along Marlborough Street. The Back Bay has been more cautious than other neighborhoods, instituting a sign-up sheet for people offering “safe houses” that are open for candy business. But residents who don’t sign up open their houses too. Safety on Halloween has not been an issue in other neighborhoods, and I can’t imagine it is in the Back Bay. One wonders if the larger scale of housing in the Back Bay makes approaching the houses more concerning. Or did such a practice get started because someone decided it was a good idea even though no child had ever had problems before?
The North End doesn’t worry about safety. It has more families than it did, say, a decade ago, and the variety of age groups has made Halloween what one resident calls a multi-generational holiday, and a party that goes on and on. There was a haunted house and two carnivals last weekend. On the weekend, a parade gives kids the chance to try out their costumes before the big candy event. Local parents make orange signs that are placed in restaurant or store windows and in residences to let kids know there is candy to be had there on Halloween. The North End Music and Performing Arts Center holds a fundraiser and then throws a pizza party under Paul Revere’s statue. Dog owners have even gotten into the act. The newly formed group, RUFF—Responsible Urbanites for Fido—will join the party with their dogs in costume. The main problem this neighborhood faces is to keep the lid on the “young professionals” and college students who find Halloween another reason to drink excessively and wreak havoc. These young adult revelers are much scarier than the pint-sized goblins.
Halloween, as well as life in these neighborhoods is all about face-to-face contact, even if some of the faces are masked. So the Internet has not made many inroads. Of course, most of the neighborhood newspapers have web sites as do the neighborhood’s civic organizations. Patch is okay too, but it was hard for their young reporters to learn that it is the Boston Common, not Commons. A couple of web sites, though, show that the Internet can boost the feeling of neighborliness.
The Garden Club of the Back Bay’s website is good looking and offers those interested in the natural world a full listing and description of horticulture and environmental activities, mostly in Massachusetts, and you can’t imagine how many events there are. Francine Crawford, a long time Beacon Street resident who has been involved in almost everything happening in that neighborhood, maintains it. You can sign up for a feed at www.backbaygardenclub.org.
Now back to Matt. A few years ago Matt Conti, a long time North End resident, began www.NorthEndWaterfront.com. It might be the best news web site in any neighborhood in America. (Full disclosure: this web site links to this column, which I agreed to because I admire Matt’s work, not because there is anything in it for me.) Paul Revere looks over the enterprise on his computer. Original articles complement a round-up of what others might be writing about that neighborhood. The usual calendar material is there but Matt goes far beyond that in a way only electronics can do. He often posts videos of neighborhood meetings. He works with the local newspapers to enhance their coverage, not compete with them. He has no advertising on the site because he’s not interested.
Check out these web sites. They show that electronics can enhance already desirable neighborhoods, making them even better.
Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com.