One must only enjoy the art of porch sitting to have the authority to create a chapter of the Professional Porch Sitters Union. I am thus authorized. I picked 42 as the chapter’s designation because it is the answer to life, the universe, and everything (see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)
Andrew Jackson Downing was the founder of post-Revolutionary War landscape architecture. Downing believed in “the front porch as a bridge to nature.” He popularized porches as a part of his new “Carpenter Gothic” home design, which spread across the United States. Porches became a unique architectural feature of our country at that time.
Porches moved from country to urban areas in the early 1900s, the architectural element and price tag no longer linked with status and a commune with nature. Homes with porches built closer together provided entertainment and a “neighborhood watch” 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.
But porch-sitting history can be traced further back, to 500 BC Greece. Philosophers gathered at the steps of Athen’s Stoa Poikile, or Painted Porch, to listen to and argue with Zeno, the father of Stoicism.
To sit on a porch with others has for centuries encouraged the exchange of ideas and information.
Today’s front porch is not so much a bridge to nature or a philosophical platform but a neighborhood pastime deserving of revival.
I am so lucky my neighbors practice the art of porch sitting. We take turns hosting, favoring one side 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, either, though the pandemic has brought on a bit of a memento mori mood from time to time in addition to our wider-spaced chairs ... or sometimes empty porches, depending on the health department’s requirements.
In itself, porch sitting is a brave act! It’s an invitation to participate in the in-between of the privacy of home and the public street. When we sit out front, we commit ourselves to the intimate observation of each other and the neighborhood passersby; our roles as actors and audience members overlap.
Sharing laughs, opinions and micro-local news (the corner house’s cat got run over, 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. That commitment creates grace for each other, something you might agree that our society could use.
Maybe you’re thinking now, “Well, dang! I don’t have a porch.” No worries! The Professional Porch Sitters Union states on its website 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[ing] 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 potential homeowners, builders and architects of our fair town: Please consider adding porches to your plans!
And to those of you in a committed relationship with your home, I say, be brave and invite your neighbors to porch-sit with you – even if six feet apart for now.
Please join Durango’s Professional Porch Sittiers Union, Chapter 42. Membership is free; discussing the meaning of life, the universe, and everything else is optional.
Lizzie Kost is a Durango porch sitter.