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Porches and Schools

Joel wrote
"Over the last 25 years, Americans "belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often"

It is my opinion that the main causes for this are the almost extinction of large porches on homes, and the ever increasing shift to redistrict schools in order to make thier population more diversified.

When I was a kid (I'm 30 now) my elementary school was withing walking distance.  Our house (in the suburbs of Buffalo NY), much like the rest on the block, had a large porch that you could sit on and enjoy the neighborhood and talk to your neighbors that happen to walk by.

This setup has been since replaced by the modern suburb: Homes with decks in the backyard and schools where some children have to ride the bus 30 minutes to get to.

Communities built around schools and organizations have been replaced by gated areas with homes.

This reinforces the idea that isolation is ok and becomes the norm.  Thus the cycle continues ......

I want a big porch
Friday, February 28, 2003


I grew up on the west side of Buffalo (100+ year old homes), and we hung out on the porch everyday weather permitting.  In North Buffalo now, and hardly any real porches exist anymore...  It's sad, but what can you do...

Friday, February 28, 2003

I want a big porch too with a glass of Chianti.

Jim Dandy
Friday, February 28, 2003

I recall a study done some years back that suggested that the demise of the porch was due to the invention of the air conditioner... which makes sense to me.

Anyway, so it's one example of technology driving people apart instead of bringing them together since porches were one thing that kept communities together.

My own personal observation is that air conditioning also destroyed the practice of 'visiting' - where you walked to people's houses and then sat on their porches or in their parlors drinking lemonade for a spell before moving on to the next house. This was done in the summer when it was too hot to sit inside at night and going for a walk was the best relief from the heat if you could manage the skeeters.

X. J. Scott
Friday, February 28, 2003

I remember reading something similar in the middle-ages. Everyone used to gather together in the main hall in front of the fire and tell stories listen to musicians etc etc. Then they developed a method of sending the heat to individual rooms and there was no need to gather together anymore so it caused less friendliness & divisions.

Same thing happened with TV. Families used to have 1 where they would watch together. Now the kids each have their own and everyone goes to their isolated rooms to watch.

Interesting huh?

Friday, February 28, 2003

Another example of the wealth effect is swimming pools... people used to socialize at the local swimming pool, now everybody wants their own. So you get a smaller swimming pool, there's nobody there to chat with, and the public swimming pools can't make enough money in membership fees so they close down.

Joel Spolsky
Friday, February 28, 2003

I understand and agree with many of the sentiments here, but I'd like to throw this one out there: I don't like a large number of my neighbors. Many of the people that live around my home annoy me for one reason or another (not going to go into that though), or strike me as very very artificial. The public school system there was good as far as education went, but the students were generally pretty... superficial.

To some extend, I think it is reasonable to suggest that the wealth of many of these families had to do with their attitudes (not to say that you can't be rich and nice, but that with spoiled teenage girls it appeared to be the exception rather than the rule.).

These are sweeping generalizations, but still: I avoid people I dislike, and, rightly or wrongly, I am rather picky about people I want to be good friends with and see a lot.

Mike Swieton
Friday, February 28, 2003

There's a book about this: "Bowling Alone" - about the death of community involvement in the US. (It was a big seller back in 2000. I found it at the unloved books store at the outlet mall for $6. A very good read.)

I haven't gotten deeply into it yet but this degree of universal alienation and non community is acknowledged as a brewing social problem.

I think the comments about wanting our "own" whatever are spot on and are probably a big factor.  We as a people seem to get trained in independence in everything as a sort of religion. I think product marketing has a lot to do with it. If resources that get people together like swimming pools and mass transit were universal, then a significant portion of the economy would simply have no reason to exist.

So this isolation is a corner that our over merchandised economy has painted itself into.

A second issue is a culture (cult?) of personal uniqueness and elitism, fed by high end product marketing. We all 'need' to be too special to belong to a group. The SNL parody of the Infiniti Q45 toilet seat is kind of an example of this.

Bored Bystander
Friday, February 28, 2003

But Mike, is it possible that you would be able to like your neighbors if you all relied upon each other more?

X. J. Scott
Friday, February 28, 2003

Crazy, offtopic, and out there, but I have this nagging participle of knowledge that I'd like to settle once and for all, and this is a good time and place. I have heard from my friend (who in turn heard this while getting an economics degree) that the reason that front porches were no longer built is because of fears of drive-by-shootings. I do remember this fear being played out in popular culture -- see Back to the Future II. Because of this, the porches were moved to the back of the houses in the form of decks.

Please tell me he's insane

Shawn Leslie
Friday, February 28, 2003

X.J.: I'm not so sure.

I think it's largely a case of I don't *have* to associate with these people, so I don't. Now, for instance, when I dislike coworkers, I deal with it. You don't bitch, you work with them, and whatever. I imagine a small, closely knit village would be similar.

The other thing is this: while I would probably always dislike these people, they wouldn't be the same people if they'd grown up in that environment. I think we can agree that the social environment one is raised and lives in has an impact on attitudes and behavior. I think I'd maybe like them more then because they'd be different people.

Mike Swieton
Friday, February 28, 2003

Drive By's:

I'm not so sure since places that drive by's may most likely happen are areas that probably already have porches; not in the newly created suburbia


I want a big porch
Friday, February 28, 2003

Check out "A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction" by Christopher Alexander et al. It's a compilation of hundreds of recurring themes in architecture and design and the structure of public and private spaces, in effect an examination of how certain types of design are effective at fostering social interaction and human comfort and other types are not. It may well have helped inspire Gamma et al's Design Patterns book (I know that the authors cite A Pattern Language in the introductory chapter).

John C.
Friday, February 28, 2003

>>> Crazy, offtopic, and out there, but I have this nagging participle of knowledge that I'd like to settle once and for all,<<< 

"participle of knowledge" ???  Maybe we can start a thread on the effects of spell checkers on the quality of writing.

>>> Please tell me he's insane <<<

Heard it from a FOAF, huh?  Insane, no.  Gullible or slightly deluded, maybe.  Or just pulling your leg.

Decks were becoming popular in the '60's or even the '50's.  When did drive by shootings become popular?

ObBigPorch (660 ft of it):

Friday, February 28, 2003

I looked at new homes recently. The developer emphasized the front porches and the sense of neighbourhood in the portrayal of this subdivision. They are, understandably, harping on our sense of loss of community in order to sell homes. Aside from the fact that the porch is not large enough to allow one to comfortably recline in an Adirondack chair (forget about the romantic porch swing), this developer has forgotten one additional factor in this social crisis in which we find ourselves. In order for the porch to serve a social purpose someone must walk by it. Unfortunately the only place anyone walks nowadays (in suburbia) is on the treadmill at the local gym. Instead of walking down the street to the neighborhood bakery, and stopping for a chat with our neighbour who is lounging on the proch, we pack the kids in the car and drive over to the local big box mall. The designers of the urban sprawl have omitted the commercial side of the 'neighbourhood'.  Okay, so i am a hypocrite. I have visited Home Depot more times than I care to mention, but I have little choice today. The hardware store down the street does not exist anymore. As much as I hate to present a problem without proposing any solution, this is it - a big part of the problem.

Friday, February 28, 2003

If I do decide to build a house in Sri Lanka I'm going to make sure it has a bloody big porch - but that'll simply be so that the inside doesn't look like a bomb hit it!

Stephen Jones
Friday, February 28, 2003

Hey, glad this thread is on-topic. 

Friday, February 28, 2003

Shawn Leslie:

I read your post 3 times and I couldn't understand it. Are we speaking same language here?

Jim Dandy
Friday, February 28, 2003

How are things in big cities like NYC, Seattle, SFO?

Prakash S
Friday, February 28, 2003

==="Hey, glad this thread is on-topic."----

This is what happens when you go overboard with the metaphors. At least no one is asking about online swimming lessons, despite Joel's contribution to the fthread :)

I'm suspicious about what Joel calls the "wealth effect" - simply because all the statisitics say that most Americans are actually worse off than they were in 1970!

I also suspect that this phenomenum ---"0ver the last 25 years, Americans "belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often." [2000]"----- has a lot more to do with Americans working longer hours than anything else.

Harking back to a Golden Age has been going around for the whole of my lifetime, including the part of it that people are harking back to! I reckon it's a case of selective memory. If people are that keen about it I'm sure we can wifi a Brazilian favela or bombay slum so they can have all the social interaction they want and still do their jobs!

Stephen Jones
Friday, February 28, 2003


I knew the political implications of my post, but consequences be damned, I posted anyway.

Although I doubt the topic of the "impending email" will be porches and lemonade, I am moved enough to want to see the topic fully explored in this forum.

Why am I moved? Most likely because I see the some aspect of this reclusive behaviour in my neighbourhood and in my past neighbourhood. Have you ever walked in suburbia on a Sunday night? There's a lot of blue, flickering lights. Particularily freaky is seeing two houses with the same TV program running --  the flashes are in sync with each other.

I subsequently moved to the city center, and witnessed a Subway move into my neighbourhood. They moved into what was, most likely because the area was easlily accessable via bus routes, a popular local gathering spot for suburban kids. Eventually, the owner got tired of having kids "hang out" in front of his store, so he put up signs which said that the area was to be for "Subway Patrons" only. No more skateboarders, and no more socializing.

Why do we have this FEAR of anything but sitting in front of the television / internet? Is it simply because it is easy and we are all lazy?

Shawn Leslie
Friday, February 28, 2003


It is with great sorrow that ‘My’ answers to ‘your’ questions would be of no help.

However, all of ‘Your’ answers to ‘your’ questions can be found through ‘your’ interpretation of the culmination of eloquently expressed thoughts of Bertrand Russell.

The quotes alone are thought provoking (and funny), but one must read a significant portion of Russell to gain true insight!

Good luck with 'your' quest for ?your truth?!

Heston Holtmann
Saturday, March 1, 2003


THE answer has NOTHING to do with "porches" and EVERYTHING to do with "schools"

Heston Holtmann
Saturday, March 1, 2003

In the small city where I live, there were quite a few problems with one of the low-income housing projects. It was a rowhouse (townhouse) style development and there was rampant vandalism, among other things. Somebody got the bright idea to remodel everything to include nice little porches. Although on the small side, there is room to recline on 2 or 3 lounge chairs or set up half a dozen lawn chairs and a BBQ for small gatherings. Vandalism is way down, and instead of people scrambling to find someplace better to live, people are scrambling to get in. Once there, they only leave when they no longer qualify as low-income residents, thus creating a more stable community.

Porches won't fix all the worlds ills, but they were one of several tools used to clean up a neighbourhood (on-site park, better lighting, etc.).

Ron Porter
Monday, March 3, 2003

If you're interested in this topic, take a look at "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs.

This book was originally published in 1961 and is still an excellent book that shows why a lot of current day urban (and suburban) planning is not only misguided but harmful to the communities the planners are trying to help.

I took a class in 'urban studies' as a general education elective back in 1987.  Between an excellent instructor and this book, I almost changed my major from CS to Urban Studies. At times I wish I would have made the choice to switch...

To find it cheap, look at

Monday, March 3, 2003

In my opinion the horseless carriage and telephone had more impact on this than anything else before or since.  The car, because it allows us the freedom to travel great distances quickly and easily.  The phone, because it allows us the freedom to communicate quickly and easily.

I think we do still have communities though.  The difference is that they are defined not by geographical boundaries but by who each of us considers to be part of our community.  There are online communities, some of which are very tight-knit.  There are communities oriented around activities we participate in.  Many of us participate in professional/work communities such as local user groups.


Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Counter example:

We moved to a small house in NJ last summer.  Literally on our first day there, the neighbors asked us to join them by the outdoor fire place behind their house (where other neighbors had also gathered).  We sat and talked for a few hours.

Whenever they have a fire going, the neighbors know they're free to sit down, chat and have a beer (sodas for those under-age :).

So maybe there is hope for civilization.

Jim Rankin
Tuesday, March 4, 2003

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