Update: Project Topic–Placemaking and Porches

Placemaking, Urban Design, and the Sociology of the Front Porch/Stoop

updated 9/16/09

Introduction and Background

In this section, I would explore in-depth the history behind the porch and its relation to an “American ideal”. In traditional neighborhood design, porches and stoops were a central aspect of most houses. Prior to air-conditioning, porches were not simply design elements tacked on by developers in the attempt of luring buyers–they were a necessity. Serving as a transition space between the public and the private realms, front stoops and porches offered not only a way to escape the oppressive heat of the house in mid-summer; they also allowed for socializing with neighbors and other passers-by, and in this way facilitated close-knit communities. Since the end of World War II however, such elements of home building have often been overlooked in favor of centralized air-conditioning, home entertainment systems, and computers. As a result, backyards grew along with rear patios, diverting family activity away from the semi-public sphere, and thus separating neighbors. However, that is not to say that porches are not being built in cul-de-sac communities. In fact, in many sprawling suburbs, porches can be a selling point for a particular house. Even if families do not use them for the purpose of sitting, the existence of a porch can conjure up idyllic images of cold iced tea and endless gossip, as well as the myth of a close community.


Significance of Porches

This section of the paper would draw on some of the material touched on briefly above. What are the effects of porches on a neighborhood? How do stoops and porches engage the street and the community? What do they say about the people that live in a house? Jane Jacobs: idea of “eyes on the street” creates a safer neighborhood for all. More broadly: how does the way we build buildings interact at the street level with pedestrians?

New Urbanism and the Future

In the early 1980s, as the New Urbanist movement got rolling, porches started reappearing. With an emphasis on walkable, traditional communities, the theory was that these porches could again become focal points for socializing, as well as conserve energy through decreased use of air-conditioning. However, in choosing this topic, my emphasis will not be simply on these small scale environmental considerations. Rather, in this section of the project, I hope to connect the sociology of the front porch/stoop with the broader considerations of sustainable (a.k.a. traditional) neighborhood design. How can we address some societal problems by returning to this mode of development, including constructing more close-knit neighborhoods with porches?

Case Study

It might be feasible to look at houses in old Delaware verses new suburban developments. I could incorporate this into some kind of photo journal, or look at local housing regulations, etc. Perhaps I could talk to and meet with people if this was relevant? Perhaps I could do a literary case study looking at the role that porches play in American literature.

Some More Sources:

  • Professional Porch Sitter’s Union (CBS News video link)
  • “Sitting on the Porch Not a Place But a State of Mind”; NPR, July 28, 2006
  • “Porches Knit Together New Urbanist Communities”; NPR, August 1, 2006
  • Home from Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler
  • Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, Andres Duany et al.
  • Congress for the New Urbanism
  • Placemaking: The Art and Practice of Building Communities, Lynda Schneekloth and Robert Shibley
  • The American Porch: An Informal History of an Informal Place, Michael Dolan
  • Out on the Porch : An Evocation in Words and Pictures, Reynold Price et al.
  • Planning Neighborhood Space With People, Randolph Hester
  • The Influence of Porches on Neighborhood Activity, Teresa Mac
  • Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs
  • The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs
  • “A Place for Space in Sociology”, Annual Review of Sociology, Thomas Gieryn

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