Using the front porch to build community

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.

Our porch

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.

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.

Porch

Now it really started to come along. Yes, those are candy corn lights during Halloween. We love being festive.

Porch

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.

Porch

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.

Porch

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.

A table I built last week for my porch

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?

If you have any questions or Sacramento area real estate appraisal or property tax appeal needs, contact me by phone 916-595-3735, email, Twitter, subscribe to posts by email or “like” my page on Facebook

Comments

  1. says

    Great idea! I just had someone pull out some overgrown bushes/plants in my front yard. I was going to lay down some large bark for a minimalist look (as opposed to Amazon Forest). Too bad I just spent my money on a Transmission… 🙁

  2. Elisha says

    We moved from an apartment to our first new home about six months ago. As apartment dwellers, we were really excited about having the backyard as a place where we could have privacy and still be outdoors. Little did we know, it would be the front porch that we enjoyed about the house the most. We are lucky to live across the street from a park popular with local families, so we have lots of people watching potential. But the best part is, people mosey on over to compliment(or constructively criticize) us on our landscaping and painting choices, chat and welcomed us with open arms into the community. We never got to know our neighbors while we were in the apartment even though they were two feet away, but now we know everyone within a two block radius. Front porches are the best!

    • says

      What a fantastic story, Elisha. Thank you for sharing. It’s funny how Home Depot and Lowes sell us the image of the glorious backyard (which has its place for sure), yet spending time in the front yard is what can really impact the neighborhood. The porch really is a powerful place to build connections and get “stuck” in conversations very easily. A porch is a bit like walking a dog. So many people naturally stop to chat about the dog. The owner really doesn’t have to put much effort into being noticed. Congratulations on your purchase and finding a sense of community. That’s wonderful.

  3. says

    Ryan,
    Great post – I do think that a front porch is a great way to be more social and create community. I live in a neighborhood built in the mid 90’s and there are several models that have a great front porch. Of course, it’s still up to the individual to hang out front and engage. I’m sure being social ‘off-line’ is not a struggle for you Ryan!

    • says

      Thanks so much Michael. Great point too. A porch doesn’t mean there will be a sense of community. It’s always up to residents to make that happen. You’re right.

  4. says

    I love how you enlarged your porch! I’m a big believer in connecting with community. I live in Baltimore and my neighbors actively engage in “stooping” (hanging out on the front stoop). It’s one of my favorite parts of our neighborhood. I’m hoping to score a porch when I move to Sac!

    • says

      Thank you so much. Good for you to connect with your community. It’s a great choice and lifestyle. Moving to Sacramento? Good deal. Keep me posted if you have any neighborhood-related questions or need something. Take care.

  5. says

    Great job on the front porch Ryan, and great points! I love your community evangelist attitude! We have a neighborhood in our area that uses the fact that most of the homes have front porches as a selling point in advertising. The promote the community that it creates.

    • says

      Thank you very much, Tom. That’s grea to hear about the porch marketing in your area for that one community. Building neighborhoods that help foster community will only help resale value. I’d love to see more of that.

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