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Why America Needs the Front Porch Right Now

front porch swing

Yes, the country has officially gone crazy. After being locked in our homes and away from our jobs which give so many of us purpose and connection it seems we have become more polarized than at any other time in our country’s history.

We sit in front of our computers as I am right now and shoot off comments on social media about how we are right and everybody else who doesn’t share our feelings is not just wrong but the epitome of evil. It’s a sad place to be as a country.

It’s been on my mind lately, and when I came upon the picture above of an old porch swing on an empty front porch the inspiration for this post came flooding to me. I’m, not one to complain about things without first having a solution in mind. I never know if my ideas will work, but I feel that it is just a waste of time to bitch about something if I’m not willing to at least try to fix it.

What’s Wrong With Us?

The question that has been grating on me is “why?” Why does it feel like we are so polarized when I watch the news or scroll through social media, but when I talk with my neighbors go to any store or public place where there are other people everyone seems to get along fine?

There are always people walking around without a filter, but it seems that in person most of us are still polite, upright citizens who don’t wish harm or ill-will on our neighbors. We largely want to be left alone to live our lives in whatever way we choose. We want the freedom to be ourselves.

In 2020, when a worldwide pandemic hit us we all retreated into our safe spaces and stopped interacting with other people the way we always have. We stopped hugging. We stopped kissing, shaking hands, stopped hanging out, stopped socializing and always had our guards up to keep us safe from the virus.

We got mad at people who didn’t wear masks (or who did wear masks). From our couches we had to pick sides and defend our position. We struggled to get reliable information about a virus that nobody really knew anything about and we got angry when somebody heard different facts from ours.

In a world of confusion and fear we didn’t have the one thing that can actual calm us and connect us and that was personal connection. Human touch is a necessary thing for us to thrive. The Huffington Post put it this way:

“In fact, ‘failure to thrive’ in human infants has been shown to result from lack of individualized, nurturing, physically affectionate parental care, whether in an orphanage or due to extreme parental neglect. Babies’ brains expect that they will experience nearly constant physical touch, rocking and cuddling: without it, they just don’t grow. And without receiving kind empathetic care, they are less likely to behave that way towards others as they get older.”

I’m not saying that grown ups are exactly the same as babies, but when you take a society of 330 million people and you prevent them from touching or even being closer than 6 feet for over a year there are bound to be consequences to the levels of stress that we are able to cope with. You have taken away our biggest coping mechanism which is that physical touch we all crave so much.

How Do We Fix It?

As a historic preservationist I spend a lot of time looking at history to try and understand things today. History is a great teacher and one that we often overlook. We believe that we know so much more today than we did 100 years ago and so the ways of those “simpletons” is irrelevant to what we are dealing with today.

Those simple people may have lived in a different time, but humans don’t evolve that quickly. Our lizard brain still can’t tell the difference between an impending bear attack and an incoming call from your ex. So while your conscious mind may understand what is happening the emotional part of your brain, called the Amygdala, is still living in a cave and excited about the prospect of eating Sabre-toothed tiger for dinner.

When I look back into history there was a simple solution that came to mind and that was the front porch. We used to go sit there and enjoy the weather, our families, and our neighbors. It’s almost like the front porch was designed for a post-COVID world. We can talk at a safe distance, in an outdoor setting, and avoid the social media cesspool that makes us all crazy. Your neighborhood is not all Republican or Democrat either, unlike the Facebook groups you belong to.

No, it’s not perfect, most neighborhoods are still fairly homogenous when it comes to race, income, and other factors, but you don’t get to hand pick your neighbors like you do your Facebook friends. You can’t cancel them and they can’t cancel you. We’re forced to get along at least on some level with those around us. To be civil. To be respectful. The front porch makes that possible.

The front porch is the tip of the iceberg to show us that while we may disagree on things, we are not all that different. We want the best for our children and grandchildren. We want our parents to live long healthy lives. We want our streets clean and safe. We want to respected. We don’t need to agree on much other than the fact that my pursuit of happiness does not have to infringe on yours. And even though I may disagree down to my core with what you believe I can still wave to you from my front porch and be the neighbor I would like you to be to me.

Am I wrong? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below. And while I can’t control what appears on social media I can control the comments on this post so please, only respectful comments as if we were all face to face talking on the front porch.

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17 thoughts on “Why America Needs the Front Porch Right Now

  1. Thanks so much Scott. We moved into a 1922 American Foursquare in north Alabama 14 years ago. When we drove up to the home for the first time and I saw the porch, I knew we didn’t even need to go in. It was love at first sight. We’re retired and spend so much time on that porch. It is everything you described! Our salvation during Covid.

  2. We live in a 107 yr old solid brick craftsman that was my grandmother’s. We still have & use the original porch swing that she & I love to get so high it jerked the chain..we also greeted the neighbors walking by who often would stop to chat. My husband & I ‘courted’ on that swing. I would never want a house without a porch & swing. We’ve been married for 57 yrs. We still use the porch even during the lockdown, we do say hello to neighbors & people we don’t know who for some reason seem to prefer waking down the street not the sidewalks.

  3. Brilliant!!! Thank you!! Of more of us reached out like this here in the either and be on the “Front Porch” virtual or otherwise we would all be much better people! Again, Thank you!!

  4. My wife and I are working to restore our 1921 Folk Victorian house in small town South Carolina.
    Lots of great neighbors walk by each day as we scrape and paint. After years of setting derelict we are now restoring the front porch. Wow! The friends open up as we set and talk old houses, old trees and family.
    Not a cross word spoken.
    True bliss.

    Rob Spradley
    Hartsville SC.

  5. Well spoken Scott seems we live in a totally different world then the way it was back in the 60’s. I was lucky growing up in Orlando it was quite common to sit on porches and talk about everything under the Sun with everyone it was our internet and a way of life. In fact very few did not have porches in our neighborhood. We even met with people on porches then took off to go do something instead of waiting in the house. Can’t recall all the times eating watermelon with my family and friends and seeing how far we could spit out those seeds? We even had a picnic table in our backyard something you don’t see anymore. I could remember riding my bike and stopping in a small independent corner convenience store and find people sitting out front discussing everyday events drinking a beer or soda. When I first moved to Missouri I went into a local small restaurant and saw farmers sitting around having breakfast & coffee and talking about everything. They were social hubs which kinda vanished over the years as progress developed into larger cities. Sadly porches kinda vanished in newer construction unless a customer or designer insisted on it. Most builders looked at it as an additional expense so they decided to cut corners and quit building them on many of the homes today unless the customer or designer designed them in the very beginning stages. I’m a firm believer in porches even wrap around porches on a home the bigger the better.

  6. I enjoyed your words on porches, politics, and social media. In forty years we have owned three different old houses and I have restored the porches on all three. We had a wonderful porch swing on our first porch and being a teacher I had to take lots of summer courses to get my Masters. I read all the books required for my degree on that porch swing. While I was on the porch I said hello to a lot of people with many stopping for a few minutes to chat. It was great! People walking and driving by could see who lived in the house. After retiring from teaching I started an architectural woodworking business specializing in porches. I have helped to restore many. Very satisfying. Here is my blog if you would like to see some of my work: oldhouseporches.com

  7. Absolutely true ! My front porch (1919 Craftsman) is my haven in the evenings three seasons of the year and often the fourth season on a clear cold evening sunset. It is the most welcoming facade youy could ask for an often a real show-stopper to those walking or driving by…..

  8. I have enjoyed the blessing of living in houses with front porches since I was 9 years old. Three of those houses including the one we’ve lived in for the past 18 years were either wrap around or extended from one corner to the other. A porch is a place to slow down and detach from distractions, take in the view and the sounds of the neighborhood, as well as a great place to visit with friends and neighbors. The house we’re going to move into later this year is just in the next block from our current abode and while it will be the first house I’ve lived in that doesn’t have a front porch, it has a wonderful spacious screened in side porch with a vaulted cedar ceiling. Like our current home it was built in 1936 . When a friend who rehabs houses suggested I should close in the porch and add to the living area I told him the porch was one of the best features of the house and many a neighbor had said they loved the porch ! I think every house should have a porch, either open or screened in, and better yet – both!

  9. Scott, I have noticed the same strangeness over the past year- a hyper-agressive angry roar coming from social media where it’s easier, frankly, to be uncivil because you can hide behind your screen identity. As one who generally deters social media anyway, I observed the effect it had on me, personally. I am not an anxious person, but all of a sudden, I was! Everything I saw seemed designed to evoke fear, outrage, division…the worst us against them ever. And yet, I found that on days when my kids played outside (we live in Chicago), all of the passers by were friendly- no matter where they fell on the masking spectrum, they stopped to talk or smile or something. It was a very different sense of the world than one I got from Instagram. In February, I realized that IG was causing me more inner angst than anything else, so I got off. I have felt more peace in the last 2 months than in all of 2020. I still find that I get news that I need to, and I still know things are messed up. But Nothing is being fixed on social media. If anything, the lack of civility is causing further erosion. But I do have a large front porch, and I intend to be as neighborly as possible this spring. My porch swing is good to go. The joyful laughter of my 6 children rings down the street and I am doing my best to live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence by raising my kids, loving my neighbors and looking people in the eye and smiling at them.

  10. For over 30 years, the semi-enclosed (not all that well done) front porch of my circa 1922 bungalow has served primarily as storage. As I (1) age and (2) slowly restore the house, one thing I especially look forward to is clearing off and re-opening said porch! There’s even an old metal glider that a previous owner left in my barn, so I’ll fix that up and add it to the small collection of old metal beach/lawn chairs, maybe add a table with an old radio…and just kick back and enjoy, as I’m sure the original owners of the house did 100 years ago!

  11. Porches are one way to make ourselves available to conversations or a wave. It’s a good idea for an old house blog. Seems that some strong emotion prompted the post. I really appreciate the look at old house stuff every week. It fills up something in me. Thanks Scott!

  12. I couldn’t agree more . I live in the northeast and we tend to have porches on farmhouses and Victorians but not the Capes that are so ubiquitous here. I’m not sure how easily a porch could be added given the low hang of the Cape’s roof.

  13. My husband and I live on Main Street in a small town and we spend a lot of time on our front porch. It’s been especially nice this past year when we haven’t been able to see our friends and family. Being able to chat with neighbors and people out walking kept us feeling connected. I totally agree with you. Being involved in your community is a good reminder that no matter what else, we are neighbors first. We need to look out for one another whether it’s a bear attack, or information overload from too much internet.

  14. Peace. It’s what we want.
    Violence. We reject it.
    Destruction is easy. Like letting an old house go to ruin.
    Construction is hard. Like restoring an old house to its intended glory.
    Scott loves old houses, so he saves them.
    God loves people, so…

  15. Hear hear! I’m so glad we have a front porch. “Porch sitting” became the way to connect with friends and neighbors this past year.

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