Thursday, June 07, 2007

Longing for A Front Porch

A little while ago I blogged about "third places" - a place that's not home and not work, but where we can hang out and connect with people. Why do we need such places? - mostly because home is too personal and intimate and work relationships need to be kept more distant and professional. Why are we now hearing about third places and finding a place where everyone knows your name? Is this such a new concept? Maybe not. Before our world got so crazy, people did hang out in their neighbourhoods - that is before we had supercentres instead of main streets and before we drove everywhere (because there are no general stores/corner stores anymore), before we had automatic garage door openers, and before we had 492 channels 24-hours a day ... before those things, the front porch used to be one of the major places to connect with people.

The following quote is from a website that is called The Evolution of the American Front Porch that I saw in one of my books (The Search to Belong - look at the list of books at the left).

For the front porch existed as a zone between the public and private, an area that could be shared between the sanctity of the home and the community outside. It was an area where interaction with the community could take place. For "the master's farm business, the mistress's selections of goods and produce, the home craftsmen's sales, and sundry negotiations of the cooler sort (with the hired man, the foreman, the slave or house servant, the distressed or disgruntled neighbor, even with the unpredictable stranger from the muddy road) could all be conducted in the civil atmosphere offered by the shade of a prominent porch, apart from the sleeping and feeding quarters and without serious risk to the family's physical and psychic core"

The porch further fostered a sense of community and neighbourliness. In the evenings, as people moved outdoors, the porch served to connect individuals. The neighbours from next door might stop by one's house, to sit on the porch and discuss both personal and community issues. The couple walking down the street might offer a passing "hello," as they passed house after house whose inhabitants rested outdoors. The porch brought the neighbourhood and community together, by forcing interaction and an acute awareness of others. Indeed, the front porch and the ideal of community in America had developed into a congruous union.

Between the rise of the front porch in the middle nineteenth century and its decline in the post World War II era, the front porch developed a cultural significance. It represented the cultural ideals of family, community, and nature. As these ideals would decline in importance in American culture, so would the porch."

I still think people hunger for these "median spaces." For a while it was replaced by the mall. But I think the current expression of median places is Starbucks (or something like it).

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