The Front Porch … Has It Become An Anachronism?

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Depending on where you grew up, many frequent and pleasant baby boomer evenings were spent sitting on a front porch, if your house was fortunate enough to have one. Most of the beautiful photos in this post were shot by Judy, one of my two special helpers.

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American porches have been around since the mid-1800s, when a well-known landscape gardener wrote about how to distinguish American homes from English architecture. The porch became a “transitional space between the private world of the family and the public realm of the street.” Porches became a necessity before air conditioning, whether it was the screened sleeping porch or the broad, columned veranda where iced tea — and gossip — were plentiful.

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In the 1950s and 1960s, and even today, when families had a front porch, they would sit on the porch in the evening. Neighbors, who were taking an evening stroll, would walk past and stop to talk and perhaps be invited to come and sit and visit.  Young couples, that didn’t have a car, would walk to their destination. All the neighbors would greet them as they walked past, and then the” porch sitter” would report on the couple to the next neighbor.  Those boys who had cars would cruise up and down the streets in hopes the girls would be “porch sitting.” What might have happened afterwards is pure speculation and faded memories.

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Today, there are a number of publications and organizations that simplify and romanticize the way things were when we baby boomers were growing up. Philip Gulley, from Porch Talk laments, “I believe all that is wrong with the world can be attributed to the shortage of front porches and the talks we had on them. Somewhere around 1950, builders left off the front porch to save money, and we’ve had nothing but problems ever since.”

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There is an official “Professional Porch Sitters Union,” whose mantra is, “The best way to do nothing well is to make sure to do it slowly.” “Crow Hollister,” from Louisville, Kentucky, founded the PPSU in 1999. There is only one rule, although a suggestion is a better description … “Sit down a spell. That can wait!”

According to “Crow,” “Starting your own chapter of PPSU is simple. You simply declare yourself a local chapter, pick a number to represent your Local Chapter identity and then sit back with friends and neighbors to celebrate with an interesting story or two. Meetings can be called at any time by any member and attendance is optional.”

To become a member you simply need to say you are a member and agree to sit around with friends and neighbors shooting the breeze as often as possible or practical, preferably on a porch but that’s not critical. There are no dues, no membership requirements, no mailings, no agenda, no committees, no worries. PPS believes that the radical act of sitting around sharing stories with no specific agenda is critical to building sustainable communities.

Unfortunately, television and air-conditioning have moved far too many people off their porches and into their homes where they quickly become isolated from their communities. We believe that sometimes the most effective course of action is to sit down and relax while sipping iced tea and sharing stories.

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