[This was an article I wrote for a monthly newsletter I used to produce for my neighborhood (Curtis Park) each month. A friend of mine inspired me with his writings “The Relevance of the Front Porch for a Community” to re-post my article.
[this is from “The Front Porch” March 2006]
Some of you have asked me about the significance of the news letter’s name. The name, for me, evokes a feeling and concept that many of our homes already have built in – namely the front porch. The front porch can be the equivalent of an outdoor sitting room, a place for discussion and relaxation. As I walk the streets of our neighborhood I see people cooking/barbequing, reading, children playing, writing and even business being done (with the advent of wireless technology) on the front porch. You might catch some just sitting, gazing at the street or in the trees, entertained by a bird or squirrel. The front porch welcomes the passer-by, and invites conversation between neighbors.
The word “porch” originally derived from “the Latin word porticus, or the Greek word portico, both of which signify the columned entry to a Classical temple”(Kahn 1). As history unfolded and the Middle Ages arrived, the porch came to represent a cathedral’s vestibule, “where worshippers could gather to socialize before and after the service”(Kahn 2). By Victorian times, the word “porch” became interchangeably used with the words “veranda,” “piazza,” “loggia,” and “portico,” each of which could connote individual meanings. From this period until the second half of the nineteenth century, “the word ‘porch’ itself most often described a small, enclosed vestibule or covered rear entrance” (Kahn 1). At this time, at the end of the nineteenth century, the word “porch” began to represent its present meaning. This meaning, in its American sense, generally refers to a “roofed, but incompletely walled living area”(McAlester 52) contiguously attached to the frame of a house. Generally, in America, this area would be found attached to the front of a house, offering a covered and shaded area for an array of uses and would be known as the American front porch.
Between the rise of the front porch in the middle nineteenth century and its decline in the post World War II era, the front porch developed a cultural significance. It represented the cultural ideals of family, community, and nature.
The new technological development of air conditioning further aided in the decline of the front porch. Providing a cool environment indoors, the front porch was no longer needed as a cool shaded area during the day or as a place to enjoy the cool night air. Families remained indoors comfortably, and a primary use of the front porch was no longer needed. Air conditioning, in a sense, also contributed to another technological development which would affect the front porch: the television. The television, which could exist only inside, provided endless hours of entertainment indoors. As a result, family life shifted from the porch to a family room or TV room, where families could watch the evening news, sporting events, or the early sitcoms, all while enjoying the newly invented “TV dinner.” No longer would families relax outside on the front porch.
Some of our friends, who live in the “burbs,” lament, “Our neighbors just open their garage, pull in, and you never see them – Or, “Everyone hides out in their backyard.” And, “We still don’t know many people on our street, after all these years.” Notice what might be missing from these homes… the front porch or at least the “front porch attitude.” Granted, this home feature will never guarantee a gregarious disposition in life or an abundance of neighbors who are open and friendly, however it does give us a head start. Why do you think the street side café or coffee shop with outdoor seating will always be a hit? It’s for the same reason why front porches exist. Is yours lying dormant? You may not be the one who throws a block party or is best friends with everyone on your street, yet you may try dusting off those beautiful Adirondack chairs (or whatever furniture you have – pull out a folding chair, it doesn’t matter) and become a part of the front porch culture.
A while back, I received an email from a friend in the community saying, “I came by to visit today, but you were not home. Hope you don’t mind, but we just sat on your front porch for a while and enjoyed the neighborhood. We may be back soon, even if you are not home. J Thanks! “
While my day job consist of real estate investing, property management, and real estate consultation, I hope to also be one who helps draws the community together. So whether you have one or not, you can still enjoy the ethos and attitude of the front porch.
See you soon, walking by or enjoying a beverage … on the front porch.
McAlester, Virginia and Lee. A Field Guide to American Houses New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.