One of the best ways to build a sense of community with neighbors is to use the front porch. Of course one obvious problem is many houses these days only have a small “courtesy slab” porch big enough for collecting mail, herding guests through the front door and maybe setting out one chair if you’re lucky.
The importance of the porch: The porch is a middle ground between private space inside and totally public space on the curb. It lacks the intimacy of the interior, yet it’s more intimate than the front lawn since it’s one step closer to inside. A porch is honestly a “neighbor magnet” because it’s easy to attract conversations when neighbors are walking by. After all, it’s not threatening to walk up to a porch to chat for a few minutes since it’s a warm and more public place (in contrast to knocking on a door where someone may or may not be wanting visitors). Also, you can invite others to join you for conversation or drinks, yet you don’t have to clean the house (always a bonus).
Today I’d like to share my experience about how I expanded our porch a few years back and the impact it’s made on connecting with neighbors.
When we purchased our home, it had a flower garden in the front. Being that I’m a talented flower killer, I always envisioned a porch in its place. The garden honestly seemed like a ready-made spot for easily enlarging our porch.
Here is the frame, so you can begin to see a more traditional porch take shape. At this point neighbors were wondering what we were doing.
Now it really started to come along. Yes, those are candy corn lights during Halloween. We love being festive.
The slats are now being installed. Honestly, I should’ve laid concrete before the slats went in, but that’s sometimes how it goes when building something for the first time. Yes, those are icicle lights during Christmas.
Laying down some concrete. Since I’m not a concrete guy, I hired this part out, but helped out with the process to save a few greenbacks. We could’ve easily laid down pavers instead.
The finished product. This is now a place that can fit a small group of friends, family or neighbors. It’s a natural gathering spot to build relationships. Frankly, I think it’s a selling point too and a boost to property value.
By the way, here is my latest wood creation. I built a porch drink table last week out of scrap wood (hence the reason why I’m thinking of porches this week).
The impact of the porch: I’ve loved having a larger porch. It’s been perfect for neighborhood kids to come sit on as well as watching my own kids ride their bikes. Sometimes I’ll play guitar and then have a neighbor bring her “axe” over to jam with me. It’s perfect for inviting walkers to sit down with us for a few minutes. The porch comes in handy when doing neighborhood BBQs for people who really want to sit away from the crowd. It’s great to simply wave to neighbors we know and even others we don’t. It’s nice for late night talks with my wife, and it’s fantastic for drinking smoothies with the kids. I could go on and on.
Isolated society: This is important because our society today is much more isolated than it used to be. Sometimes we even value isolation to the point where it’s no longer common to talk with neighbors or even know their names. Frankly, when neighbors stop knowing each other, it’s harmful because “silence is golden” only in the movie theatres. Ultimately we need a greater sense of connectedness in our communities to overcome obstacles, fight crime and most of all establish a stronger sense of “home” in our tracts. Not everyone has to be a social butterfly of course, but we do need to individually contribute to the community somehow.
Having an enlarged front porch for my family fits nicely into a paradigm of connecting with the community and overcoming isolation. While it’s aesthetically pleasing, the real goal of expanding the porch was about being intentional to connect with neighbors. I know I’m a bit of a porch and community evangelist, so I hope I’m not sounding too preachy, but I’m excited about the way we can use design to build relationships and discover the joy of neighborhood life.
Questions: Builders these days too often neglect traditional neighborhood design, which makes the porch mostly useless. Why not bring some of that back though? What if the way we designed our porches and front yards could help foster a sense of community with others? What if the yard could help promote relationships instead of just swallow water? Any ideas for how to make that happen? Do you use your porch or front yard to connect with neighbors? If not, why? If so, what do you do specifically?
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