The Relevance of the Front Porch for a Community

I have to admit I am sold on the idea of the traditional front porch.

031708ins 112aaMost of the time these days, construction companies build what I dub a “courtesy porch”. It’s basically a slab of concrete that gets you inside and outside comfortably, but cannot really provide seating for a household or neighbors for that matter. A real porch is a place to foster community. It’s a place to sit, talk, laugh, wave to passersby, drink coffee in the morning, read a book after dinner, and invite neighbors to conversation. The great power of a porch is that it can be a gathering place without having to plan a dinner, and it provides an atmosphere to foster relationships without the intimacy of inviting someone into your home. 

Our society has changed dramatically from decades past. We have moved away from having a sense of connection in our neighborhoods to a pervading sense of isolation. It’s as if we bought into the notion that life is better when we keep to ourselves. So we come home from work, close the garage door as soon as possible to avoid contact with neighbors, and generally try to not bother relating to people around us. Our actions illustrate our belief that we no longer view our participation in the community as important or necessary.

But how is our isolation honestly working out for us? Is it really better for our families? Have our neighborhoods improved over recent years since people are living on the inside more than the outside? Are we safer and more secure?

In my trade I see new subdivisions built all the time and I pay attention to how they are marketed to the public too. The builders often promote the idea of “community” in their marketing package, yet ironically nearly everything about the design of the neighborhood is all about keeping people out of community. There is a garage for people to park in, a ridiculously large house that can contain all aspects of entertainment for a family, a low-maintenance yard so people don’t have to be outside and take care of their lawns, an HOA that handles community problems, and of course a tiny slab porch to bring it all together.

With a growing sense of disconnection in our society, revitalizing elements of traditional neighborhood design, such as the porch, can be very powerful for establishing a deeper sense of community in our neighborhoods. If we have a place to sit outside, it’s more likely that connection will emerge, right? When we move away from a “courtesy slab” to a traditional larger-sized real porch, we can begin to see how this simple adjustment in design can help provide a place for neighors to gather and build trust with each other. One of our biggest problems right now in current typical neighborhood design is that there is no common-ground place for neighbors to meet with each other. It’s either you don’t talk to people around you or you invite them into your home (most of us don’t like to have strangers over for dinner though). What if we were to encourage the use of a traditional porch so that residents over time can have a safe place to be casual and get to know each other before dinner and party invitations start happening? Could not this one practical design element assist us in getting to know our neighbors? Wouldn’t that be better for the strength of the community?

It’s amazing to think that how we construct things can actually prod us to build relationships with others, and in turn produce a stronger community – one that not only has pretty houses, but has connected residents. Yet the most important thing, whether we have traditional porches or not, is to be intentional in small ways about building relationships with people. If we want to be more connected in our communities and avoid the plague of isolation, then our posture must be to do something and get outside more often. Our community grows stronger when we do practical things like wave to neighbors, let the kids play in the front yard, invite a family to BBQ on the driveway, meet new residents when they move in, take regular walks around the block, or even do something very easy and natural – sit on a simple porch. 

My Porch Story: From “Courtesy Slab” to Community Hub:

My house was built nearly fifty years ago and unfortunately came with a “courtesy slab” porch, but that all changed about two years ago when I expanded a couple of garden boxes into a real traditional porch. Our porch gives us a reason to be outside and it’s been great to visit with people and invite neighbors to sit together. “C’mon up to the porch” is something I love to say. Here are some pictures of how the porch evolved.

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Further Articles on the Front Porch:

I hope you enjoyed the article. If you have any thoughts to add about porches, neighborhood design, community building or something else, you are welcome to comment above. The Relevance of the Front Porch for a Community

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