By Ray Dunaway

Somewhere in the distant past I took a sociology course ‘neath the elms of our dear old Trinity. And one of the reading assignments discussed the role of the front porch in American life. I wish I could provide attribution, but it’s been awhile. The theory was that neighborhoods and the sense of community were stronger when people would spend their time outdoors in front of the house.

My dad grew up in a neighborhood, where on summer evenings, people would escape the heat in the house and spend hours out front, just passing time, and watching passersby, striking up conversations, and just getting to know one another. It also made it more difficult to attempt anything untoward, since each street contained dozens of potential witnesses.

If my cousin and I tried to get away with anything, my parents would get a call.

It was a good thing.

But somewhere in the 50’s- maybe the 60’s- the front porch became passé. People began to flee to the backyard, out of sight. And some sociologists insist that the rise of the backyard resulted in the decline of the neighborhood.

A nation of strangers was the result, so they theorize.

I remember during my radio career’s Dallas years, driving through nice neighborhoods for blocks, without seeing a single soul. It was sort of eerie. The only way to be part of a community was to be single, or Southern Baptist. As for the guy next door, few had a clue.

But it seems the front porch may be making a comeback. Increasingly, builders are bringing that tradition back, as more homebuyers are viewing the front porch as a plus.

In West Hartford’s Buena Vista area, you’ll notice residents placing benches, Adirondack chairs (which are the most uncomfortable pieces of furniture in existence-just my opinion), and the occasional fire pit back out front. The trend started several years ago, and it is heading in an upward direction.

And once again, kids play in the street under the watchful eye of neighbors, and people are getting to know the folks next door.

It’s retro, I know.

But heading back to the past is sometimes a good thing.


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