Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm a Porch Sitter. Are You?

(The porch I share with my neighbor Andrew.)

I've been reading Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon's Swinging in Place. It explores the porch not just as a "place" (governed by society), but also a "space" (created by the individual).

Donlon addresses issues of race and class, but she also identifies familial and romantic relationships that develop underneath porches' haint-blue ceilings. "The porch is a powerfully charged 'place' integral to the everyday lives of Southerners. It is a site where people can gain or loose power," Donlon writes. It is also a liminal "space," a threshold through which to pass from the public to the private.

During my weekend in Nashville, I took note of porches. They are more prevalent in west Nashville than here in Oxford, Mississippi. I even had dinner and breakfast on the back porch of my friend's house. Perhaps others were also in their back yards. Although the weather befit porch sitting, I saw few people enjoying their front porches. Has the porch become a status quo as just another over-decorated space? (They are the new must-have, just do a search on New Urbanism.) Has it lost is practicality in an air-conditioned South?

Donlon cites Raymond Arsenault. He laments that "[some southerners] will argue that the South is going to hell, not in a hand-basket, but in an air-conditioned Chevy." Meaning, with the prevalence of air-conditioning in southern homes today, more people retreat indoors than they did in the past. ( In 1997, the Energy Information Administration’s Residential Energy Consumption Surveys reported that 72.5% of Southern households had some form of A/C unit compared to 63% of households in the Northeast.)

The porch facilitates neighborly communication. With more southerners choosing the hum of the artificial air to a cool evening breeze, there is less conversation. "Oratory is our heritage", Faukner reminds us. When southerners cease to talk, the foundation of the community is fractured.

If you’re considering doing something for the community, add a porch. And if you already have one, use it.

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