Dan Kenney, the celebrated host of the Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking in Lumberton, North Carolina, has a great post up on front porches on his Coach4aday blog. It talks about the changes in architecture that have diminished the role of the front porch as an effect and cause of our growing isolation from each other. I hope you read it, and follow Dan’s blog.
I’m a big fan of front porches. We have a small one — our house is a semi-detached — but there’s room for some chairs and a bench/foot rest, and I like to spend time out there reading, doing samurai sudokus with mixed success, or just watching. We put a gate up (actually, Scott Hammons, the Best Neighbor Ever, put it up) so that Ella can play safely on the porch. And we have a ceiling fan. Dan only mentions, so I will emphasize, the importance of a ceiling fan on the front porch. A ceiling fan lowers the temperature by about 10 degrees, and 10 degrees makes a world of difference in the summer. And it helps with mosquitos.
I especially like to sit on the front porch in the morning and the late afternoon. We live on a direct line from some large apartment buildings to the Friendship Heights metro station and shopping area. There’s always a lot of foot traffic in front of our house, so I get to recognize and ultimately to know lots of neighbors.
I particularly like to sit on the front porch with a cup of coffee in the morning and watch people trudge to work; or, in some cases, stride or even bounce eagerly to work. There’s drama there. And I like to sit on the front porch in the late afternoon with an adult beverage and watch people as they come home from work. It’s especially dramatic in the heat of July, as I sit on my porch on a 90+ degree afternoon, cooled by the ceiling fan and a cold beverage, thinking what a lovely day it is. I look out and see people dragging themselves home, sweltering in their regulation charcoal grey wool suits, numb from a day full of fruitless meetings. But I also see people striding home (no one bounces home on a July afternoon) after actually having accomplished something during their day in Washington.
A front porch is a great place to sit and watch life pass you by. It also is a place to watch storms and to chat with neighbors, letter carriers, delivery people, and anyone else willing to speak to another human being. A front porch can be a Welcome sign to the world. You get to know people, and it helps turn an anonymous big city into a community.