Bring Back Porches
I welcome you to Durango’s First Official Professional Porch Sitting Union, Chapter 42. One must only enjoy the “art of porch sitting” to have the authority to create a chapter, according to the Professional Porch Sitters Union (of America.) I am thus authorized. 42 picked because it is the answer to Life, the Universe, and everything (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) It's a casual union.
Andrew Jackson Downing, considered the founder of post-Revolutionary War American landscape architecture, helped create the Carpenter Gothic architectural style found in rural towns across the United States. Downing believed “in the front porch as a bridge to nature” and popularized porches as a part of that home design. See artist Grant Wood’s American Gothic painting as an example of the architectural style Downing promoted, or stroll down E or W 3rd Ave.
Porches moved from country to urban areas in the early 1900s, the feature and price tag no longer linked with status and a commune with nature. Homes built close together provided entertainment and porch-surveillance for its residents. By the 1930s, the sound and smell of cars drove people inside, and later, televisions and air conditioning made the porch almost obsolete. People have written books about the history of the American Porch if this piques your interest.
But porch sitting history extends well past the American Antebellum, back even to 300 BC in Greece. Philosophers gathered at the steps of Athen’s Stoa Poikilȇ, or Painted Porch, to listen to and argue with Zeno, the Stoic philosophy father. To sit on a porch with others has been for centuries an act of exchanging ideas and information.
Today's front porch is not so much a bridge to nature or a philosophical platform but a pastime of the neighborhood community. It deserves a revival.
I am so lucky to live where porch sitting is an art my neighbors practice. We take turns hosting, favoring one end of the street or the other for maximum sun or shade, or whoever’s porch is closest to a stocked fridge. Our conversations aren’t necessarily philosophical, though the pandemic has brought on a bit of a memento mori mood from time to time in addition to our wider-spaced chairs. It’s kept us sane and connected through the distance the pandemic requires of us.
In itself, porch sitting is a brave act! We choose to share our private lives when we live and keep company beyond the front door of our homes facing the street. As we sit and observe our neighborhood activity together, we also commit ourselves to public observation--of each other and passersby. A lot or a little can be said, known, and felt about our companions by the time the last rays disappear behind the hills, as we stretch our legs before our two-minute commute home.
Porch sitting together does not necessarily make people not strange; it just removes the stranger. These are the people who notice if you leave your trash can out too long or who do or do not shovel their snow to Town Code. Sharing laughs, opinions, micro-local news (like the corner house’s cat died because it was hit by a car, and that’s why animal control was here on Tuesday) with the cosmically random people who share your street is a commitment to know them a little better. It creates grace for each other, something sorely needing cultivation in our society.
Maybe you’re thinking now, “Well, dang! I don’t have a porch.” No worries! The Professional Porch Sitters Union states on their site, “We look at Porch sitting as a broad term. While a classic Porch can be ideal, we believe it is not entirely necessary to enjoy Porch sitting. Whether you are on a smaller portico, a veranda, a terrace, front porch, back porch, heck, even the garage with the door open while watching the kids at play, that counts.”
I have a request to new but-not-yet-built homeowners, builders, and architects of our fair town: please consider adding a porch to your neighborhood. And to those of you committed to your existing homes and streets, be brave and porch sit with your neighbors.
All of you are welcome to join Durango’s Official Porch Sitting Union, Chapter 42. Membership is free, and discussing the meaning of Life, the Universe, and everything is optional.