As a kid I can remember my mom sitting on the front stoop with her good friend and neighbor, Elderene. They would sit out there three or four nights a week, drinking coffee and smoking Kent’s and Kool’s as if the supply would be exhausted by morning. If they got bored with our front porch they might move over to Elderene’s house. Only the rain and winter moved them indoors.
I can remember Marty, Evelyn, Marianne and other neighbors over all the time as well. But those coffee klatches were usually at the kitchen table. Elderene and my mom parked their rumps on a concrete 4’x6’ landing. They talked and talked and talked. On occasions even my dad would join them.
I don’t know what they talked about for all those hundreds of hours, but I sure know they enjoyed the company and waving at people they knew who passed and honked. My buddies would drive by and holler out their car windows, “Hey Mrs. A!” Sometimes a car would slow down, pull over and a mutual friend of theirs would get out and spend some time with El and my mom. Our cape cod on the corner made the porch sitting a highly social thing.
The smoking, of course, was a bad thing. But the social time on the front porch was a great thing for them and it left an indelible and vivid memory with me. It left such a lasting memory that I incorporate their friendship into my landscape designs with frequency.
My front yard designs regularly feature small sitting areas with a bench or a couple of chairs so that my clients can take that same opportunity to socialize with their neighbors or for couples to sit and enjoy the sun or shade as the case may be.
We don’t seem to know our neighbors like we used to. Maybe it’s because we live in subdivisions and not in neighborhoods. Maybe it’s because we are too busy with work. Maybe it’s because we can no longer burn leaves in the street each fall. Maybe it’s all that and more. I cannot say with certainty.
A sociologist or new urbanist can better wax on that topic.
But for me the front entry is a social space every bit as important as the back patio or deck. And they absolutely create a sense of arrival and welcome.
I usually reference these spaces in the accepted professional vernacular as ‘private conversation space’. But really, all those front sitting areas are ‘friendship gardens’ waiting to make memories for some other kid.