1. same could apply to architetese!

  2. Great to see the Popsicle Rule back in currency. The rule was originated in the early 1990s by Terry Kahn, professor of urban design at UT Austin. His phrasing was: “A neighborhood is a place where a kid on a bicycle can get a popsicle in five minutes.”

    In 2002, Steve Bodzin added the condition “without having to deal with fast-moving cars” and I rewrote that as “without having to battle highway-size streets and freeway-speed traffic.” That appeared on the CNU Frequently Asked Questions page for a while.

    Kahn said the distinction between walking and biking was critical. When kids are biking, the five-minute travel area contains enough houses to support a neighborhood store.

    Thanks for highlighting this useful rule of thumb, Scott.

  3. I waited until the end of the weekend to read this one. It’s great, and I can’t wait to get back to my urban enclave. However, I just spent a month at my childhood home and there’s not a popsicle vendor within 5miles. However, we could walk into 5 neighbors houses night or day and there was always a parent to get one off of the top shelf for us. Where does country living come in?

  4. Mike Zimney says

    I see a lot of parents dropping their kids off in our old neighorhood so that they can trick or treat as well. I imagine they loaded up the SUV and left the cul-de-sacs to give their kids a fun place to get candy.

    Even more shocking/amusing is tailgate trick-or-treating. Parents will all park their cars in a huge parking lot, and stand behind their cars and pass out candy as kids walk up and down the aisles. Its the sad state of parents being too lazy to even walk with their kids and neighborhoods too dangerous/ugly to walk in.

    Somewhat related, but I have what I call the Parade Test, meaning is the built environment worthy enough to hold a parade and would people show up. It’s a good test to show people what enivorment they would want to mimic or to test if a proposed development is good or bad.

  5. I have the same question as Ian. I don’t think my kid would make it back with a frozen popsicle. BUT she can walk to a lake for a swim and make it back still wet. She can also eat blackberries and swing in the trees on her way. Walking distance is important, but “to what” still remains a question in my mind. Are communities defined by the commodities within reach or by nature, people and schools?

  6. I think it’s clear that the Popsicle Test is something that needs to be contextually calibrated, if I may be so wonky, based on rural vs. urban, northern climate vs. southern, etc. The larger point, as it relates to kids, is the importance of environments where they’re able to increasingly exercise their own independence and decision making. So, in a truly rural setting, a network of paths winding their way to hidden streams or caves or distant neighbors with popsicles in the freezer would all seem to provide a similar asset.

    As it relates to the design of city neighborhoods, however, the Popsicle Test is also a measure of other things… things that make city living more functional and fulfilling: compactness, humane streets, mixed-use, etc. Such measures don’t apply to rural life because country living serves and satisfies us in different ways. Maybe a comparable test, based on CommunitiesKnow’s comment, would be a “blackberry test” or a “swimmin’ hole test.” Homes that interconnect with nature in the same way that homes in the city interconnect with community on many levels.

  7. I like how you have summarized this more contextual view of the popsicle test, Scott. I would, however, like to think that we do not choose between nature and other aspects of community (it would be great to come up with the list of what these aspects are – people? nature? commodities within reach? work? school? does this list differ for different communities?).

    I would be interested in your thoughts on Florida’s emphasis on relationships ( and Balfour’s ideas about changes to patterns of community (see pages 12-14 of

  8. I would have been able to go out and buy an ice lolly (popsicle) about 2 mins from the door, but I never remember making it back with more than just the stick left 🙂


  1. […] I was pleased to discover, on an American urbanism website Place Shakers, an account of the origins of the popsicle test (see the comments as well as the post). Turns out it was promoted by some serious urbanists for a […]

  2. […] environments help parents combat a host of contemporary, child-rearing ills. That post hit home for a lot of people and, since that time, my fellow ‘Shaker, Hazel Borys, has dug in further with her recent TED […]

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