Growing up, I didn't have a front porch. I mean, we had a small slab of concrete in the front of my house that had a bench on it, but we never sat on it, and foliage obscured the street view. Not that there was much to look at: I lived on a cul-de-sac in a Florida suburb, not particularly close to any neighbors. As a result, a front porch was never something I particularly valued when it came to features of a home.
But moving to a city changed all that.
In a city, you are surrounded by people, but often completely disconnected from them. In the hustle and bustle of an urban environment, it's not often that people slow down and take the time to connect with their neighbors. Everyone is always go, go, go, in a rush to get to the next place they need to be.
It's possible to live in an apartment building and not know — or even see — any of your neighbors. It's possible to feel completely alone. And, if that apartment happens to be located somewhere that experiences all four seasons, that isolation can be intensified in the colder months when people are unlikely to leave their homes unless they have to.
This is what city living was like for me for the first almost-decade that I lived in Boston. I didn't know my neighbors. I didn't take the time to chat with the people who lived on either side of me, to find out anything about the nice couple that lived across the street. I moved often and, while many of my apartments had back porches, I saw them as spaces for privacy — not socializing.
But when my husband and I started house-hunting, a front porch was something on his wish list for our home. It wasn't something that mattered to me, but since it was important to him, I agreed to prioritize it.
What we ended up with was a house with not one, but two front porches. One is on the street level of our house and the other is on the second level. Both porches were in disrepair upon purchase of the house, but over the first two summers, my husband fixed them up.
I'll admit it: I am officially a front-porch convert. My front porch is now the center of my home. Whether I'm on the top porch or the bottom one, it gives me a sense of belonging in my home and in my neighborhood. My porch grounds me in this city that can often feel so overwhelming and lonely. When I sit on my porch, it opens up a whole new world for me. My neighbors stop to introduce themselves, and I get to know them.
I know, for example, that the house next door is home to three generations that have lived in their home for over 50 years. The matriarch of the family is the neighborhood gossip, and we get all the information from her. But more than that, she shares the history of our house, of who used to live in it, of what our home has seen over the years. She buys gifts for our toddler and invites her in for lemonade.
Across the street is another family, long-time residents who lend us their yard tools when we need them, and behind us is a woman who is a foster mother. Her rotating cast of teen boys often look scared and nervous; we always introduce ourselves and let them know they can knock on our door if they need anything.
Thanks to my front porch, I know the hustle and bustle of my community. I know who lives where; I know their comings and goings. And, perhaps most importantly, I finally have a sense of belonging somewhere. I know who I can call in a pinch to watch my daughter, I know who is having a new baby, and I know who has recently lost a loved one, so I can show up with a casserole (or, let's be honest, something I bought pre-made from Whole Foods).
A porch, it turns out, is so much more than a porch. It opens me up to connections and relationships that I may never have found otherwise. It allows me to be part of my community, to create ties to other people, to find a sense of belonging when I've so often lacked one. My front porch is a life raft, a vessel that keeps me afloat in a city where it's easy to feel like I'm drowning.