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Once upon a world, we had homes with grand front porches. You’d see folks on the porch after dinner, sipping a beverage, chatting to other folk across the way as the sun sank in the sky. Passersby would nod, exchange a pleasantry, chuckle and walk on.

Somewhere along the lines, in a post-war world, front porches stopped being the norm on homes. Part of me wonders if it had to do with the great suburban sprawl. Suddenly, all these new neighborhoods cropping up where there was no established culture, so you didn’t really know who you’d be moving in with.

Maybe having a porch and feeling obligated to interact wasn’t a big seller when new subdivisions of unknown-variable-neighbors spread across the land in the ‘70s. Maybe the paranoia of the ‘60s and a post-McCarthy world where neighbors informed on each other also led to people preferring private backyards over public front porches.

There are likely a lot of reasons we shifted, but maybe it’s time we shifted back.

Front porches and how they effect whole communities

Mike Russell, a local community police representative here in Victoria, Canada, writes that he is “a firm believer that the removal of front porches is leading to the decline of modern society,” and I’ve come to agree. Living in this heritage-home community I’m now part of has a different feel than any place I’ve been in some time. This is a front-porch community, and it shows.

Often, walking on a summer night, you find people outdoors and chatting, and that culture spreads beyond their porches. There’s more conversation on the streets, in the parks, and at the stores. People nod in passing on the street more often than not. They say hello, talk about the weather, and joke about irrelevancies. And it’s wonderful.

A front porch, or even a front yard, shouldn’t just be a place where you have a few flowers and it sort of looks nice. It should be a place where you enjoy life literally passing you by on nodding with a wink as it does. It’s where you should sit when you want to feel a part of your community, when you want to wave at people, and more.

In my neighborhood, I see a lot of community-making living happening in the front of people’s homes and it seems to me that it’s a really easy thing to do.

Little touches to front porches and walkways to welcome the world

For some homeowners, it involves putting a bench at by their part of the sidewalk, with a little “have a seat sign.” You’ll often find elderly people taking a moment to catch their breath, a cane leaning beside them.

One home in particular is constantly putting flowers and local community event flyers next to the seat as reading materials. For others, it involves putting a basket by the sidewalk, filled with excess zucchini or apples or even fresh-cut flowers from their garden, a sign saying, “Please take just one, and enjoy!”

Sometimes I’ll find a table with a few books on it and a sign that says “Have a book!”

At other homes, their community-making comes from just setting up a sitting area where they can just be and keep an eye on the world out front, either with a lovely table and chairs in the yard, or comfy seating on an old-school porch or verandah. A neighborhood where everyone keeps an eye out is a neighborhood inclined to be crime-free.

Life in the front yard

In my town, urban gardening is encouraged as a return to healthier communities and a safer food supply, so every now and then someone raises chickens for eggs, and their honor-system egg banks will include a little cooler by the roadside and a sack to put change in if you take some eggs.

It might not seem like “community,” but walking down the block for your neighbor’s hen-fresh eggs for a few quarters in a sack is a local act that raises your quality of day-to-day life, and that, to me, is community. A nod and a wink to the fella on a porch with a lemonade, that’s community. It doesn’t take much.

What can you do to add to your front yard or walkway?

Simply put, community comes from all of us realizing we’re not alone where we are. It comes from respecting others’ properties, being willing to keep an eye out for each other, being generous with yourself and with each other. Some of that can be done just by putting a comfortable chair and table out on your porch. Sometimes it can be accomplished by growing a garden that requires you to spend time out front, maybe chatting with folks who walk by.

Everything you do to improve your home on the outside, particularly in your front yard and porch area, in some way benefits those around you. When one person cares where they live and lets it show, it tends to be contagious.

When you’re thinking about yard improvement in 2013, maybe it’s time to make your front-of-house a place that connects you to your community, rather than just makes it a pretty place to live.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.