Where have all the porches gone?
January 21, 2010 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Are we growing to be a porchless society? I am trying to settle a disagreement with my friend - she thinks that porches are still an important part of design, and I say that front porches have largely disappeared from modern architecture and are a social relic of the past. Who's right?

The corollary to this, in my argument, is that people spend more time indoors and are more scared of their neighbors than they were in the past. But maybe this is all hearsay. I know that in the town I'm from in Florida, it was mostly poorer neighborhoods where I would see people hanging out on their porches, while in more gentrified parts of town porches seemed more an unused luxury. Does anyone have any statistics or data to back up these theories?
posted by ajarbaday to Human Relations (54 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Anecdote: Air conditioning and TV killed porches.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:54 AM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Porches seem to be a regional thing; specifically, they seem to be present in the rural south.
posted by dfriedman at 11:54 AM on January 21, 2010

I don't have any data, but I have an opinion. In the South, at least, air-conditioning changed everything. The houses my mother and father grew up in had "sleeping porches", where you could relax and hopefully catch a cooling breeze, instead of being in the stifling heat indoors. And many older houses had kitchens that were on a back porch, so the heat of the stove wouldn't get trapped in the house. Coupled with a "dogtrot" design (a house divided down the middle by an open-air corridor, again to allow a breeze to flow through), these were methods of staying cool. A front porch was your living room: it was the coolest place to sit and relax. The social component was secondary. As air-conditioning advanced, the need for porches receded. The front porches you see today are decorative rather than functional, though I suspect that in the near future you'll see a resurgence as houses go "green" and neighborhoods are again designed for people instead of cars. Just my opinion.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:00 PM on January 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

In Portland, OR, almost every house has a porch and almost everyone spends some time hanging out on it, generally with a beer in hand. It's still an important part of neighborhood culture here, imo.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:04 PM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Most people no longer want to hang out in the front of their houses, where others can see them. Front porches are now much less popular than back porches.
posted by decathecting at 12:07 PM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think a heightened need for privacy has swapped the desirability of a front porch for a back deck in a yard with a privacy fence.
posted by bjork24 at 12:08 PM on January 21, 2010

decathecting beat me to it.
posted by bjork24 at 12:09 PM on January 21, 2010

New houses tend not to have porches because many of them are townhouse-style where every single square foot is put inside the house to pump up the spec sheet. Older porches will be around as long as the houses, but in my experience they are rare in new construction for a bunch of reasons.
posted by GuyZero at 12:11 PM on January 21, 2010

I agree that it is regional -- they are also used, with beer, in Austin. I recommend it! (And one of my favorite porches is on a brand-new house -- so hopefully it's something that won't be dying out anytime soon.)
posted by cannibalrobot at 12:17 PM on January 21, 2010

Apparently, this debate has been around since 1952.

However, Google search results show a great many "how to build/improve your front porch" pages. Anecdotally, I have seen new housing developments (in the midwest) built with smaller-scale, southern-style front porches attached to townhouses. I imagine the reason is that, even if people don't sit out on the front porch that often anymore, it's still considered an attractive feature to homebuyers the same way a formal dining room would be. No, you won't actually use the dining room frequently, but having it means you could. Seeing such features when you're looking at houses to buy prompts you to imagine hosting fancy dinner parties in the dining room or spending relaxed summer afternoons sitting on your front porch: it doesn't matter if all you do once you buy the place is eat take-out in front of the TV in your air-conditioned living room. It's a fantasy.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:18 PM on January 21, 2010

Like decathecting said, front porches have given way to backyard decks. Same general concept, but more private.
posted by Think_Long at 12:18 PM on January 21, 2010

I wish my house had a porch; I live in a very friendly neighborhood in the Midwest where neighbors are always chatting as they come and go. We just have a stoop. I'm super-jealous of our neighbors with porches, and we usually go hang out on their porches with them so we can watch the neighborhood come and go.

The price of admission is beer. :)

We have a lovely backyard and we entertain in the back, and will relax privately in the back, but in the evenings, especially in summer, everyone is out walking or relaxing on the porch or playing catch in the front, and I hate not having a porch!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:19 PM on January 21, 2010

I am 27. My dream house has a porch with furniture for entertaining, relaxing, playing games, reading a book, and just hanging out. I adore the idea of porch life.

Just a data point.
posted by mollymayhem at 12:23 PM on January 21, 2010

I've seen several new developments (particularly the ones that are pedestrian friendly) featuring houses with front porches. Also, in many of the older working class neighborhoods that have recently filled with Mexican immigrants, you'll see front porches being one of the more popular retrofits. It seems most of the immigrants prefer to hang out in the front yard rather than the backyard. It's a great way to meet the neighbors.

I grew up in a home with a front porch and loved sitting on the porch, drinking my morning coffee, reading the paper and waving and/or saying hi to the people walking by. IMO, nothing facilitates turning a bunch of houses into a neighborhood better than front porches.

I live way out in the middle of deserty nowhere now (and can't even see the road from my house) but I still have my porch.
posted by buggzzee23 at 12:24 PM on January 21, 2010

The location I was speaking of is SoCal
posted by buggzzee23 at 12:25 PM on January 21, 2010

A guess: not only TV, but cars and bedroom communities killed porches in many areas. Sitting on a front porch facilitates talking with passers by. If there's not much (stores, libraries, etc.) within walking distance, then there aren't many pedestrians and thus nobody to talk to from your porch.

Reading more carefully, I see BitterOldPunk alluded to this already.

it was mostly poorer neighborhoods where I would see people hanging out on their porches

Consider that poorer neighborhoods are often more urban. There are convenience stores and such just down the block.

I often sit on my porch on summer evenings (small Ohio college town), but mostly this is because my porch faces west and provides a nice view of the sunset.

To the OP, I think you and your friend are both right. Porches are often purely symbolic, but they're a fairly potent symbol for many people.
posted by jon1270 at 12:29 PM on January 21, 2010

Jane Jacobs had a lot to say about this in her book The Death and Life of American Cities, written in 1961.

Data points: Porches are common in Oak Park, IL and in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee, WI - both are solidly upper middle class. I do agree that they're mostly unused, but then again, it's winter 75% of the year.
posted by desjardins at 12:29 PM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, if you're really poor, you may not have air conditioning or television/internet, so you may as well go outside where you can catch a breeze and chat with your neighbors.
posted by desjardins at 12:30 PM on January 21, 2010

A couple of years ago we built a house. When we sat down to do our initial "wish list" with the architect the first thing we said was "We want a big-ass porch in the front corner of the house." He was psyched because, as he told us, nobody builds porches anymore. Everyone has a back deck now.

For us, it was a combination of living in a buggy area by a lake, having a quiet street where people walk (we like the social aspect of a porch) and my wife having grown up with a porch. Our house is also sort of a throw-back to older style houses.

We use it all the time in the summer, for just hanging out as well as for entertaining. We eat on it most nights and plenty of beer is consumed there. I've even played my banjo on it just because, well, how could I not play a banjo on it? It's a porch!

We have yet to find furniture for it though because nobody seems to sell decent porch furniture. Expect an upcoming AskMe question.
posted by bondcliff at 12:34 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Florida has a front porch initiative . A friend who works at the Front Porch office in St. Pete explained it as a way to build safer and tighter communities.
posted by mareli at 12:42 PM on January 21, 2010

One of the big reasons I bought the house I did was because it has a nice front porch. I do wish it had a back deck, but that's more because of traffic on the road in front than that people might see us.

Everyone I know has a porch, and everyone I know who is building or buying a house has porch-related plans. This is in WV where we most assuredly get winter AND summer, we just use them less in the winter.

Life without porches? Horror!
posted by TomMelee at 12:46 PM on January 21, 2010

google trends shows a slight decline in the number of searches for 'front porch'
posted by maulik at 12:55 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm an architect and I can maybe offer a couple of data points regarding porches with respect to current design trends.

I can tell you that almost everybody loves the idea of a porch theoretically. Balmy nights, a rocking chair, breeze in the air, drink in your hand. Watching the world go by. This idea is part of many cultures. In Europe the same idea takes the form of evening strolls. Here in America, interacting with the neighborhood semi-actively like this is made possible by the porch. Most of our towns are no longer built for very effective neighborhood interaction, and the porch often provides the most likely place for that. But it relies on a couple of things.

Most importantly, the street itself has to allow for porches if porches are to have any significant amount of "life" to them. House can't be too far from the street. There should almost always be sidewalks. Traffic on the street must not be so sparse or so fast as to discourage walking. The idea that there is something to see, something that grabs and holds your attention for a time, is critical to the idea of porch. It might be neighbors, or pedestrians. Or a sunset. In more rare cases, it's just the prospect of absolute quiet and stillness.

The porch itself must also be designed well. It must be of sufficient depth. A porch shallower than, say, six feet, just will never quite feel right. You are thrust too far forward, too exposed. It isn't enough of a room. So it follows that a porch is made whole by the roof. It offers protection, and allows the space to be used regardless of weather (unlike a deck). It has to have a certain balance of openness and closed-ness. A rail or wall that comes to about 3 feet high is about right to provide comfortable psychological enclosure, while still remaining low enough to see over/through when seated. The most successful porches have ways of altering the open space to maintain use during a variety of seasons (open, screens, glass inserts, etc). Add these things up and you get the picture of porches you are likely to see in the older parts of the country...the older neighborhoods...on the houses that were meant to participate in those neighborhoods.

So it's a room, basically. And that is were we get into trouble with more recent homes and neighborhoods. Rooms have changed over the years. And in vast parts of America, people have assimilated the idea of "house" and "house as a reflection of success" that has been marketed to them. Tell me why anyone needs a two-story grand entry. Is all about impression, and, even more sadly, first impressions. And so it goes. Fake crystal chandeliers, fake multi-paned windows, fake stucco, fake wood clapboard siding. On and on.

And now we get to the porch. And budgets. Since their neighborhood rarely supports the "idea" of porch, people are hesitant to spend money on that room. Certainly not at the expense of having a $8000 Sub-Zero refrigerator. Or a 3 car garage. It's amazing the lengths people go to provide a bedroom for an automobile. OK, sorry to whine and digress. The point is they have other priorities when they do not live in a neighborhood that supports the porch. So they have bigger kitchens. And enormous master bathrooms. And here in Seattle, prices housing prices have (had) gone so high that people just didn't have the money to devote to non-interior living space.

But it really does not have to do much with safety, and new houses with porches almost always inversely correlates with the income level of the neighborhood. The less wealthy the neighborhood, the more likely you are to find porches. Because, often times, the residents don't have the size house that tempts them to have a different room for everything. So they hang out on their porch as a useful, inexpensive room. It may see ironic at first, but dense housing (like you see in lower-income neighborhoods, especially newly designed and built ones) almost always includes porches. And despite their perceived crime level, despite their lack of organicly-fed, free-range lawns, these places have life in them. Real, active, community life.

Because porches actually make the neighborhood safer. And increase the sense of community. Which both then protect the property values and quality of life in the neighborhood.

Thanks for indulging this answer. I'm at work. Bored. Anybody need a porch?
posted by nickjadlowe at 12:58 PM on January 21, 2010 [348 favorites]

On preview, what everybody else said. While I was scribbling away. I can certainly be a long-winded prick. Sorry for the wasted space everybody.
posted by nickjadlowe at 1:01 PM on January 21, 2010

I'd also posit that the death of the porch as a common design element coincides with the modern suburban (and sometimes distressingly transplanted into urban) 'snout house'.
You know the one - it's got a ginourmous garage where the front door used to be. You drive up to your house, press a button, the door goes up, drive in, close door, unload car, etc.
No more interaction with the neighborhood, and no recognizable 'front door' - heck I've seen homes squeezed into existing neighborhoods where the ONLY thing presenting to the street is the garage! Talk about worshipping cars...
Older nabes where I grew up (in Denver) had a single-car garage in the alley, and you had to walk the length of the backyard to get to the house - so if the weather was nice, you got to see your neighbors in their back yards.
We could always tell who had more than one car/too much crap in their garage - they parked on the street. Most of the houses on our block (and in the neighborhood) had porches - varying in size. Ours was huge - and I played there almost year-round.
posted by dbmcd at 1:08 PM on January 21, 2010

Modern front porches are, in most places, basically decorative. Mine mostly serves to keep my mail and packages and newspaper dry when it's raining, gives me a place to take off muddy shoes before I get in the house, etc.

But back porches are still a big deal. They're not called "porches," though -- they're called decks. And they're major components of both SFHs and condos/townhomes. People definitely shop for and in warm climates consider decks to be part of their living space, if they're done well.

Most houses seem to be built with the decks and "looking-out windows" (as opposed to windows that exist purely to let light in, or for ventilation) on the back rather than the front. In the case of the deck I think this is definitely for privacy; who would want to hang out on a deck that looks out on the street, with everyone driving by? It'd be like being on a bad reality show.

Just thinking about my neighborhood, which as a mix of houses built between 1949 and 1980, I do think there was an architectural shift between putting houses near the back of their lots, to maximize front yard area, and putting them near the front of the lot, to maximize backyard area. But I don't know what drove it. It's tempting to imagine something like: at one point people cared more about creating and maintaining a certain image to their neighbors, in the immediate postwar period, but later decided they wanted more privacy for their families ... however, it could be something much simpler, like the builders deciding to put the houses on the front half of the lots to make them cheaper (by reducing the distance that utilities have to run from the street).
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:14 PM on January 21, 2010

I believe that these folks would love to explain it to you. At least check this out, as it is their manifesto.

tl;dr version as it applies to you - You are right for much of the country. In other places, not quite as much. Its all about localism.
posted by cimbrog at 1:35 PM on January 21, 2010

Also, if you're really poor, you may not have air conditioning or television/internet

Ahem. If you live in an old, large, urban rowhouse neighborhood, you need not be poor, let alone really poor, to lack air conditioning.

Stoops and front porches (where available) are more utilized "the old fashioned way" in urban neighborhoods, but I will say that the South Philly tradition of plunking down your garden chair on your sidewalk is fading, as most of us prefer the privacy of our backyard-courtyards instead.

Porches are largely a relic in new construction, but in neighborhoods of older housing stock, the habit of using them never really went out of style. I'm visualizing wealthier neighborhoods like downtown Fredericksburg, VA and Doylestown, PA as well as some of the poorer neighborhoods in West Philly.

It may see ironic at first, but dense housing (like you see in lower-income neighborhoods, especially newly designed and built ones) almost always includes porches.

Another good point. (Though where I live there's also a new fetish for endowing such housing with a sad little remnant-sized model of a suburban lawn, as well.) I see several of us admire Jane Jacobs.
posted by desuetude at 2:00 PM on January 21, 2010

Anecdotal evidence that porches might be making a comeback: In my neighborhood all of the original houses (circa 1920s) have porches, and we pretty much all hang out on them to varying degrees. There are some houses that were built in the 1960s-80s, on old lots where the original houses were torn down, and they don't have porches. But in almost all of the newer construction I've seen, the houses have porches again. I hope this means that porches are making a comeback, because having a porch makes me feel more involved in my neighborhood (and life in general).
posted by amyms at 2:04 PM on January 21, 2010

Nick may have been long-winded, but his wind sailed precisely in the same direction I was going to. And he's a professional, while I am just an amateur.
posted by megatherium at 2:05 PM on January 21, 2010

My next door neighbor was sitting on his front porch behind the hedge relaxing with a cool beverage one evening. A lady walking by didn't see him and stopped to let her dog take a crap in his front yard. He yelled out to her "Let me get a plastic bag for you so you can take that with you!". Front porch for the win!
posted by Daddy-O at 2:18 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

They're not entirely dead.
Porches Knit Together New Urbanist Communities
"According to the National Association of Homebuilders, 42 percent of new single-family homes had porches 14 years ago. Now, it's up to 53 percent."
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:20 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I live near a medium-sized city in the middle of the rural Upper Midwest. We have a lot of new construction here and a large percentage of the houses have porches. I agree that at this point it's mostly decorative. I think that adding a porch is meant to recall a farmhouse aesthetic with which many of our residents might have grown up or would be familiar with. My own new-ish house has a huge wraparound porch on the front, but it is on a farm.
posted by bristolcat at 2:27 PM on January 21, 2010

Purely anecdotal: One summer night the power went out along one side of our street. Soon people came out and sat on their porches. They started going for walks and talking. Kids ran around. We met neighbors we had never even seen before. Beers were enjoyed.

On the other side of the street, which still had power, there was no animation at all, except for the light of television sets.

I think we were all a little sad when the power came back on and people started going back inside.
posted by bunji at 2:30 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I live in a small New England town. The more neighborhood-y places in town have streets lines with houses with big porches [a friend recently remarked that it did seem like the South] and people use them. There's not a lot of AC up here, so that may be part of it. We all know all our neighbors. Sorry this is not really statistics, but there are definitely places where porch culture is thriving.
posted by jessamyn at 4:03 PM on January 21, 2010

I live in a Montreal neighbourhood that has front porches. Most of the housing is two or three storeys and most folks live in a flat on one floor. The ground-floor flats tend to be up a few stairs and have a porch; many of the upstairs flats also have porches.

On summer evenings a lot of the older folks will sit outside and it's quite pleasant to stop and say hi to one's neighbours, comment on the weather and what they're doing with their tiny front yards.

This being Montreal, people don't sit outside for at least half the year, but porches mean we've got someplace for the shovel and bag of salt, for tapping the snow off the boots and so on.

The porches are definitely more popular on the sunny side of the street.

One use I see for porches now that perhaps wasn't so pressing in earlier eras is so people have somewhere to go when they smoke outside.
posted by zadcat at 4:42 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

We have a front porch, but it was enclosed by windows at some point before we purchased the house. Kind of makes it hard to communicate with people walking by, but on sunny winter days it makes a little greenhouse that's very nice to sit in.

(My son has a sleeping porch off his room that he uses during the summer. I am very jealous.)
posted by Lucinda at 4:43 PM on January 21, 2010

I had a porch on the house that I rented in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill and loved it - I fixed up and installed the porch swing and sat out there many summer nights reading and playing guitar.

I highly recommend it, but I don't get the feeling that many others in my age group (I'm thirty) feel the same way.
posted by tyedie at 5:21 PM on January 21, 2010

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks everybody for all the awesome responses, anecdotal or not. I now have quite a few places to go look for more information about urban design. And it's great to hear that many single-family homes are actually building more porches than a few years ago.

I live in a rural area in West Virginia. I definitely see folks out on their porches in the summer time - there's one especially dedicated couple of old men who sit on their porch pretty mcuh 24 / 7, just to wave and nod at the cars that go by. It seems like almost a proprietary interest they have in the folks that go by, even if they still remain somewhat anonymous.

I suppose one of the reasons that I started thinking about this is that I took a class in college in Sarasota, FL, where we did a tour of back alleys. According to our professor, back porches used to be a popular feature in residential houses, before cars and car garages became popular and houses started to expand in front. Back alleys as a result were also a lot bigger, and people spent a lot of time on their back porches - a feature that as it existed back then has largely declined (in part also because people now leave their trash in front of their home). I think some of our presentation was in part inspired by the book, Outside Lies Magic.

So, I suppose that my initial reasoning for why I see less people hanging out on their porches isn't entirely correct.

Long live the porch and iced glasses of lemonade!
posted by ajarbaday at 6:35 PM on January 21, 2010

I live in New England, in a neighborhood full of New England urban triple-decker houses and I am so jealous of my neighbors with open porches. I'm torn between coveting the second/third floor mini-porches and the larger first-floor ones.

Some of the most ridiculous things happen: I see a string quartet 'jamming'; my friends and I gawk at parties being broken up by the cops; Halloween is much more social; and my favorite, the house where people have set up a table and old chairs and have dinner in full view of the street in the summer. It's awesome. Enough people walk and bike and walk dogs and go to the market that it makes sense to have a porch.

That being said, there's no new houses being built here; this is all 1860s-1920s construction.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:05 PM on January 21, 2010

In my neighborhood, porches are definitely still a big deal. Most of the houses are from the 10s and 20s, but the new ones have them too. Of course, it's also a historic overlay district, so it's probably a requirement. *g*
posted by kmz at 7:47 PM on January 21, 2010

I agree in principle with nickjadlowe. I will, however, offer a slightly different perspective.

In my lower-to-lower-middle-class neighborhood in a modest Midwestern city, we have a lot of houses with front porches. We even have a nice Foursquare across the street that has a porch that is occupied three seasons out of the year by a retired autoworker and his substitute family across the street -- who themselves have a small porch with a huge amount of tchotchkes.

We also have front porches that facilitate neighborhood life in another way: as drug stores. Right next to the "nice" porch we have an upper/lower where (when it's warm) the upper tenants spend a lot of time smoking something that makes them hack out their lungs, call out to passing traffic, and keep an eye out for 5-O. Down the street we have a Foursquare many decades back converted to a four-unit with a postage-stamp yard, on a major cross-street, making it ideal for "street service" last summer to where customers were lined up all the way down to our end of the block.

We have a rental building with a small street-facing porch, as well, and while I'm not sure I blame the porch itself, it seems to be popular with our most problematic tenants in terms of attracting public drunkenness and occasionally disorderly conduct (we hear about it, believe me).

As such I have a somewhat more nuanced view of the porch. When you can have the nostalgic fantasy porch usage literally next door to porch-as-nuisance, I have to wonder whether all those extra eyes are really helping safety. There were points last summer where there were so many people interacting back and forth both with passing casual or customer traffic or each other that I really felt I was the intruder in a community that didn't want me. So I question the idealism. I don't think by itself it can succeed, and especially there can be a tipping point where it may not in fact be positive at all.

Seems silly to blame the thing instead of the people but then this is the pattern language approach, the safety through urban design approach. I believe in those, so this is a troubling conclusion to me.
posted by dhartung at 10:09 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

We have a great front porch on our house and we use it most of the time in the nicer weather, especially in the summertime late in the evening. Some of our neighbors don't have a front porch but wished they had when they see us enjoying ours ( they've told us). But it all depends on whats out front of the house and where you are. It's always nice to wave at others, some of whom you know, and some you don't! Its relaxing.
posted by Taurid at 11:45 PM on January 21, 2010

Agree with everyone who says that the functionality of a porch depends a lot on the walkability of the neighborhood, so the question would be whether they are in decline even in neighborhoods where folks are often out walking.

I have very fond memories of the home we had with a front porch; sitting on rocking chairs on the porch, drinking beer, chatting with our neighbors as they passed by. It was social in a very pleasant, casual way. Now I live in a high rise with a balcony and am impatiently awaiting the invention of jetpacks so I can replicate that experience in my new home.
posted by yarrow at 7:35 AM on January 22, 2010

I've spent too much time researching this question. Here's more than you could want to know: http://porchproject.org.

The answer is "all of the above." Porches started to decline in the first two decades of the 20th century. With the introduction of residential indoor plumbing, people did not need to keep backyards for outhouses and refuse like they used to and could start to enjoy their gardens or build back porches. Over time, *not* having a porch became a status symbol.

Architects were experimenting with Modernism - clean, minimalist lines, form, no ornamentation, etc...the *opposite* of late 19th century Victorian garishness. Porches were for your grandparents, not the modern home.

While air conditioning and car ownership weren't widespread by the thirties, they were being adopted on a larger scale - again, not having a porch meant that you were forward thinking and *might* have a/c or room for a driveway.

By the 50s, when television and cars were everywhere, this trend that started earlier in the century was solidified - no more porches were built on new suburban/urban homes.

They're making a comeback in New Urbanist architecture. It's a bit of a post-modern pastiche, IMHO, but I won't go into that...
posted by dlichaw at 7:54 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Our street in Toronto has older houses (built in '20s to '50s) almost all with porches. Whatever the trend may be in new builds, people here are keeping, upgrading, and using, their porches. Few are even closing them in. It does make for a very interactive neighbourhood. It does help, as dbmcd pointed out, that any garages are tucked behind the houses, not jutting out front.

Also, any newly-built or newly-refurbished porch gets called a "Porche" on our street.
posted by Kabanos at 7:57 AM on January 22, 2010

My folks have almost always lived in houses in suburban/rural areas within housing developments. None of their houses and very few of their neighbors' houses had front porches; they almost all had private back decks.

I've lived in urban areas since college and almost all places I've lived had a front porch. Or a front stoop that you can hang out on. Not quite as relaxing as a porch, but it works. Where I live (portland, OR) most of the older houses like mine have front porches, whereas the ranch homes don't. I've been seeing some revival of the front porch in new construction in the neighborhoods around here, which is cool.
posted by medeine at 12:47 PM on January 22, 2010

I went to a graduation a few years ago where the speaker's main thesis was that myspace/facebook/etc are the porches of today's generation. The place where you stop in to say hello and see how your neighbors are doing. We don't need porches on the outside of our homes, because we can now access their equivalent from the inside.

Not sure I completely buy the premise, but it was interesting nonetheless.
posted by derivation at 12:59 PM on January 22, 2010

Anecdote: Air conditioning and TV killed porches.
posted by Daddy-O at 2:54 PM on January 21 [3 favorites +] [!]

Porches seem to be a regional thing; specifically, they seem to be present in the rural south.
posted by dfriedman at 2:54 PM on January 21 [+] [!]

aaaaaaand I'mma tell you why that is --

here in the rural South, nobody looks at you funny if you have an air conditioner and a TV on your front porch.

probably wouldn't dare, what with that big dog you've got on the porch there, next to your armchair...
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:42 PM on January 22, 2010

I lived in a small town for awhile and had a big front porch, with a roof and fans and 3ft wall separating you from the world but still let you chat at will. And a seriously great swing that had a futon mattress.

I would kill to have that porch back. Got some great sleep there.
posted by shopefowler at 11:21 PM on January 22, 2010

Our street in Toronto has older houses (built in '20s to '50s) almost all with porches. Whatever the trend may be in new builds, people here are keeping, upgrading, and using, their porches.

My wife and I bought a house on a street like this. We spent all of June 2009 cleaning, painting and fixing up our Toronto house, built in 1929. Some days there were friends, family and assorted tradespeople working with us but other days it was just me. I'd show up early in the morning (commuting from the apartment we still had for another month) and get to work. Some days when the work wasn't going well the only thing that kept me going was escaping to the front porch. I'd eat my lunch, drink some water and then just sit there for a few sweet minutes. When I felt myself falling asleep, it was time to get up and go back to work.

Those moments on the front porch were by far the best part of that month.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:36 AM on January 23, 2010

I think, at least as far as new construction goes, that we are definitely a porchless society. Most front porches in the suburbs are merely vestigial, and new houses here in the city usually lack them (instead choosing to front the house with a garage door).

Here in my gorgeous West Philly neighborhood, porches attached to the 1880's homes line the streets for blocks and blocks, making things feel safer and, well, more neighborhoody. People sit out in nice weather and say hi to whomever walks by. It's great, and it makes me sad that we have engineered our communities in such a way that front porches are no longer useful. A good front porch requires a good, walkable community to support it, or it's really just wasted space.

But any kind of bridge between public and private space fills this need. In the poor black neighborhood that I used to live in people sat out on their stoops all day and night, and I knew all my neighbors. The wealthier white neighborhood that I moved into afterward (just 2 blocks away!) featured hardly anybody sitting outside.
posted by deafmute at 6:30 PM on January 24, 2010

On my way to work, I go through a neighborhood where the houses were all built without porches. But the folks who live there have almost universally roofed over their driveways and turned them into defacto porches. Sometimes when I go home late, I'll see up up to a dozen people sitting in a covered driveway on an assortment of chairs and couches playing guitars or watching a game on TV.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:44 AM on February 2, 2010

The End of Suburbia has some things to say about house design & architecture in 20th Century America.

And why so often when they do exist, porches are cartoon gestures made to look like something useful. They're made to evoke the idea of a porch, rather than actually be one.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:42 AM on February 9, 2010

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