“Porches are as synonymous with American culture as apple pie. While not unknown in colonial times, they rose to nationwide popularity in the decades before the Civil War, and remained in fashion for almost one hundred years. Ironically, the very social and technological forces that made them both popular and possible were eventually responsible for their decline.”
– From Renee Kahn’s “Preserving Porches”
What do you see when you look outside your front door?
In a conversation yesterday during lunch (when, let’s face it, we come up with some of the best story and blog post ideas), my 20-something co-workers and I were discussing where we unwind outside at home.
One co-worker has a front stoop. She sat on it the other day, until her boyfriend told her she should probably come inside. Another co-worker has a fire escape. Meet apartment living. Or even house living if you’re in the city. There isn’t much yard space, sometimes no porch, sometimes not even a balcony.
So when I went home last night to my front porch complete with rockers, I counted my blessings. From my porch, I watch bikers and hikers on the York County Heritage Rail Trail. I see lacrosse players practicing in the park. I catch sight of the building where my dad heads to work every day.
In this study from the University of Virginia, the front porch is a symbol of America — or, used to be.
“For a majority of our nation’s history, America did exist as an agrarian nation, and it praised its ‘purple mountain majesties’ and endless forests. Yet along with the idealization of nature came an ideal to control it. Americans’ ‘manifest destiny’ induced them to conquer nature, by building towns and cities, clearing forests, and otherwise civilizing the land. The front porch provided a compromise for these two opposing American ideals and connected human control, in the form of the house, to nature and the wilderness outside it.”
For years, the porch was a place for families to be in a controlled outdoor environment. It was also a public/private forum — a place where people could talk on their own property, without inviting guests inside. A place to debate politics, tell stories, even sing songs.
Today, for most 20-somethings, you’re lucky if it’s a stoop.
Do you believe front porches are important to American culture or a waste of space? Do you have a front porch?
* Note to my co-workers: I’ll share my porch and rockers anytime.