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Thread: Front porches: 'TND' bull-pappy or genuine boon?

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    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Front porches: 'TND' bull-pappy or genuine boon?

    One element that is often found or advocated in Traditional New Developments that try to construct a more humane form of suburbs are front porches.

    The idea is that they will increase neighborliness, sociability, etc.

    My experience in the Midwest was that in older houses that had porches the use was fairly minimal due to very inclement weather, provision of better entertainment indoor (TV, videogames, etc.) as well as 'cultural' factors.

    Trying to avoid any generalized rants pro/con TNDs and NU, what do you think about including porches (aside from aesthetic considerations, that is)?
    Life and death of great pattern languages

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    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    One element that is often found or advocated in Traditional New Developments that try to construct a more humane form of suburbs are front porches.

    The idea is that they will increase neighborliness, sociability, etc.

    My experience in the Midwest was that in older houses that had porches the use was fairly minimal due to very inclement weather, provision of better entertainment indoor (TV, videogames, etc.) as well as 'cultural' factors.

    Trying to avoid any generalized rants pro/con TNDs and NU, what do you think about including porches (aside from aesthetic considerations, that is)?
    I use the front porch on my house, but I definitely know that I am much in the minority. My neighborhood is more social than most, but you tend to see more people just hanging out in their front yard than actually on the porch. With the high temperatures, I haven't been out there as much during those "social times" after work.

    I believe in including front porches simply so people have the option to socialize on them--it really doesn't add significantly to the cost, no more than an appliance upgrade. One of the guys in my office lives in a TND, and he has mentioned that a lot of socializing really goes on in the alley areas, over fences (their neighborhood as little 4' white picket fences in the backyard, so you can easily talk to your neighbors down the way), and particularly in the pocket parks.

    Aesthetics also play a big roll for me, but it sounds like you were looking for other reasons.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

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  3. #3
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    The next house I buy will have one of those Wild West looking porches....I'm so envious. Had one at my old house, and would have slept out there if I could.

  4. #4
          Downtown's avatar
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    I'm a huge porch fan - my annual college roommate reunion is held at one of my GF's parent's house, simply because they have a big old victorian with an awesome porch that we can spend the whole day and half the night drinking wine and catching up.

    As far as sociability goes - i think setbacks have a MUCH larger say in neighbor sociability than porches do. We're working on our front gardens quite a lot, but with a 36' pavement width on our road, and 40' front setbacks, its really very easy for neighbors across the street to dodge having to say hello when they're in the front of their houses.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I think that front porches contribute to a more friendly "feel" in a neighborhood, even if they are not widely used. The porch contributes to the establishment of a series of transition zones between the public ROW and the privacy of the home's interior. This is true in a social sense (you can deal with someone on the sidewalk, from within the setback, in the setback, on the porch, or within the house), but also visually as you pass by. This element, along with related features like "cascading roofs," is also included in Chrsitoher Alexander's pattern language for this and other reasons.

    There are other tricks to be used as well, creating different effects. Are the houses raised above street grade? Are they screened porches or open? What other features frame the front setback or ROW (ie. street trees or other landscaping). Creating good spaces like this really is an art that (largely) has been forgotten in the interest of large-scale development.

    My warning: Simply requiring front porches as an isolated element without consideration of other features may still result in a dead space. Still, I think individual homeowners have a lot of room to improve the situation if the porch already exists - this is more incremental change, but this layering and individual "signature" over time is what makes the difference between an ok and a great feeling neighborhood.

    Consider the difference of walking down a neighborhood street in which front doors open right into the front yard (ie, no porch or stoop) and those with porches. To me, and I think many, the porches "soften" the experience for the pedestrian, make gazing at homes as you pass by less invasive (ie. if someone opens a door you aren't staring right into their living room), etc.

    All that being said, I have seen New Urbanist developments with front porches galore that still seem lifeless. In this case, I expect something else is going on (ie. little or no consideration of the other related design elements that create pleasing transition zones).

    In short, I like 'em. I also have one, and use it daily.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Downtown
    As far as sociability goes - i think setbacks have a MUCH larger say in neighbor sociability than porches do. We're working on our front gardens quite a lot, but with a 36' pavement width on our road, and 40' front setbacks, its really very easy for neighbors across the street to dodge having to say hello when they're in the front of their houses.
    Correct!
    Front porches are good at promoting "neighborliness," in the proper context. A street of houses on narrow lots with raised porches on a 15 ft. setback will tend to have lots of neighbor interaction and front yard activity. The 'smallness' of the lot forces many outdoor activities to the front of the house. The porch becomes a public room that gets a lot of use, even in inclement weather. That being said a front porch looses it public interaction/social function when it's placed way off the street and simply is there because of the homeowners aesthetic preference.

    Anecdotally, front porches get a lot of use in my city. In fact, "porch nights," as they're called, with friends and adult beverages seems to be the activity du jour among the young professionals of the city. Well, at least in my extended social and professional circle.

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    I live in a neighborhood where some blocks seem to be older than others it seems, so there are varying levels of front porches, and it seems that there is deffinately a positive correlation between porches and neighborlyness. Along with increasing sociability, porches seem to have the tendency to deter solicitation because people are unwilling to enter the semi-private zone of the porch. Porches allow senior citizens to keep an eye on the public, for some thier only activity, and also allow the public to keep an eye on thier seniors.

  8. #8
          bluehour's avatar
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    Yeah for Porches!!! I miss them. Great for the social factor as discussed above. Very useful as well. You can screen them in and therefore use them in the winter time to be more efficient with the heating, for example. Also good for bicycle parking.

    I get even more excited about second storey porches--- private outdoor space in an apartment! Now i'm talking nice big wooden porches with room for tables, chairs etc and not those manky little porches that always seem to be added onto large apartment buidlings so inhbitants have a place to put their ailing plants.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Excellent feedback guys!

    I've definitely read and seen that a porch needs to be fairly deep to be practical. I've personally seen some victorian houses with wrap- or semi-wrap-around porches really become extra rooms/host parties, but that was in a college town.

    I see that lot size, setback size, raised level, etc. also have an impact.

    I guess that in less well-lit countries/areas there is also the issue of light inside the house, but in most of the US that is not a major problem.

    I would also think that on more 'masonry' buildings, a loggia serves much as a porch

    Does anyone have any good quality pictures to post of particularly handsome porches on old houses, etc.?
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  10. #10
    I like my front porch:



    My house was built 1915 about the same time as the others on the block. We use the porch (this image is a little old) regularly and it does inspire interaction with the neighbors. Conversely, when we are in the backyard on the deck, we usually just wave to the neighbors and they wave back. But out front, we gather on each others porches, or come to the rails to chat for a few minutes.

    My house sits about 20' from the right-of-way, so there's usually interaction with passers-by on my side of the street. However, we have 54' of pavement from curb-to-curb so while you can see passers-by on the other side (on a clear day) there's virtually no interaction with them.

    Here's a more recent look:


  11. #11
         
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    I just stumbled upon this, it might help you

    http://www.newurbanism.com/under03.htm

  12. #12
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Pictures of Oak Park, IL front porches:



















    In Chicago, IL:

















    In Monroe, MI (NU development):







    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    ^^What's interesting about these pictures is that the older examples don't imply nearly the same sociability as the NU examples. I've always thought about the front porch as sort of a quirky place and not as much in the public realm as the new urbanists see it. If anything, the rigidity of the NU porchfronts make them a lot less attractive than the older (particularly Victorian) examples which seem to retain some individuality.
    Outside of the "shotgun shacks" in the deep south I don't see where this front porch typology comes from. Could it be simplt that the NU is obsessed with Seaside?

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    I disagee hilldweller . In the new urbanism examples the porches look like a poor excuse , something just slapped on , clearly not a space that acts as a semi private/ semi public buffer and lead to sociability . To my mind these NU types will not work , put merely for aesthetic ( ) reasons .

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    I think the NU porches could work, but not as well as the older ones. But they most definately work better than some of the concrete stoops in some of the photo's

  16. #16
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    Many dwellings here have porches, although they tend to be a lot more open that the examples showing in this thread.

    Due to the weather, they get used a lot, for having drinks/bbqs with the family, neighbours etc.
    "Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?" Zoolander

  17. #17
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    In my old neighborhood in New Orleans, entire blocks had fronch porches, we all hung out on them, and really got to know our neighbors really well. After I moved to another part of town with no front porches (and houses being set back farther), I know only two neighbors and occasionally talk to one. It's a big difference, and I know it's because neighborhoods with porches become more like villages, they're more friendly, and they're more fun!

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    I grew up in Roland Park, a turn of the century Baltimore neighorhood of large shingle houses on streets that were laid out by the Olmstead Brothers. And almost every single house to the last has a large porch, which made sense circa 1900 with the long and hot Baltimore summers.

    My mother and grandmother grew up in this same neighborhood and both have stories of spending all summer lounging around the front porches with their friends, and how their mothers would have lunch parties on the front porch. But these virtually no one uses their porches. It's not just the presence of air conditioning that drew people indoors but families have retreated to the rear of their houses where decks often have been added off the kitchen.

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman
    I believe in including front porches simply so people have the option to socialize on them--it really doesn't add significantly to the cost, no more than an appliance upgrade. One of the guys in my office lives in a TND, and he has mentioned that a lot of socializing really goes on in the alley areas, over fences (their neighborhood as little 4' white picket fences in the backyard, so you can easily talk to your neighbors down the way), and particularly in the pocket parks.
    This is a pretty accurate description of my neighborhood. It's a new build with all phases completed in 2004. My portion of the neighborhood consists of Charleston-style houses which are narrow but deep, matching the lot sizes. We have narrow streets and shallow setbacks from the street. We all have little porches, I think mostly as an asthetic element rather than a social element. Most people have some porch furniture and flowers or plants on them though, and usually people decorate them during Halloweed and Christmas. Our backyards are relatively small...maybe 25x20 fit in size and are built with 4 ft picket fences. The houses that back up to each other are situated on a common greenway that runs between the two rows of houses, the backyards have a gate in the fence to access the greenway. Most of our visiting is done there since our front yards are pretty miniscule.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

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    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I have always heard that nothing is better than sitting on a front porch on a Sunday morning with a cold ice tea, a news paper, and a good dog next to you.

    Problem that we have with covered porches is they have to meet the same suburban setbacks as the rest of the house, but if they are uncovered, we allow them to project 10 feet into the required front or year yard setback. I am going to see if we can extend that to include covered porches to encourage developers to add them. I also hate it when the garage is closer to the street than the porch
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis
    Problem that we have with covered porches is they have to meet the same suburban setbacks as the rest of the house, but if they are uncovered, we allow them to project 10 feet into the required front or year yard setback. I am going to see if we can extend that to include covered porches to encourage developers to add them. I also hate it when the garage is closer to the street than the porch
    Our code allows covered porches to be 10' from the right-of-way if it is at least 65% open on three sides. Its an option few actually use but I am glad home owners don't have to get a variance to build a porch. They are more likely to want to build a deck instead which is completely out of place on the front of most homes.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    I agree with Hilldweller in the fact that the new porches typically are not comparable to the older ones in size and form. That said porches are overrated when it comes to social interaction, IMO. I live in a decent sized planned community, great walking system with collector and arterial style walks and homes that are arranged in a more TND style development within the development. I happen to live in the non-TND portion of the development, and vast majority of houses have more of an entrance porch in the front that a real usable porch. Which is interesting because neighbors are out in there yards a few times a week, I talk to one neighbor or multiple neighbors each day I'm home. I think 3 factors play a major role in creating the exchange -

    1. The climate - not too many people are going to spend 30 minutes talking to a neighbor when its 10 degrees, nor 100+ degrees outside. We happen to have a good amount of shade from trees, the helps provide a nice setting.

    2. Yard Size / House Location - My house sits on a fairly small lot compared to the typcial Southern lot, with smaller side setbacks and with the house being pushed towards the street. This creates close contact when you are getting in and out of your house. Street widths may play a part in this too? Though are streets are not narrow by residential street standards.

    3. Demographics of the People - Familes? Young Couples? Empty Nesters? Etc. I think this can be a big part. In my case there are a few familes with kids and the environment is one that kids can play in the front (and yes close your ears, play in the street).

    I think when you combine those things they play a factor. I could make an arguement that cul-de-sacs can provide more interaction opps than porches alone???

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Reductionist's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis
    Problem that we have with covered porches is they have to meet the same suburban setbacks as the rest of the house, but if they are uncovered, we allow them to project 10 feet into the required front or year yard setback. I am going to see if we can extend that to include covered porches to encourage developers to add them. I also hate it when the garage is closer to the street than the porch
    Locally the City of Tampa is considering changing its zoning to allow covered porches to encroach up to 8 feet in the front setback area as a means of encouraging developers to build more porches. I’m not against this, but I’m curious how effective this will b. I suspect that the maximum lot coverage limits which treat all covered construction the same, are as much if not more of a disincentive, to a building culture that consistently chooses quantity over quality.

    I also question the usefulness of uncovered porches in front yard setbacks, as the roof is a critical design element of a porch in terms of both and aesthetics and functionality. Without a roof such “porches” are essentially nothing more than a front yard deck or patio, offering no protection from the elements or the sense of definition and enclosure that is needed to create a meaningful transition between the public and private realm.

  24. #24

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    Front porches

    I feel pretty neutral about modern-day front porches. They add a lot to the exterior appearance, and can be great amenities where traffic and street noise doesn't overwhelm. However, with the tiny lots, minimal setbacks and on-street parking favored where I live, we see and hear more than enough of our neighbors already. And with the long days, stressful schedules and constant interaction that most professionals experience, the ideal home to me is one where I can shut out the exterior world and retreat into my little haven of relaxation. We need more privacy, rather than more enforced interaction...and that's why our gatherings tend to favor our screened porch and deck in the back yard, with a shady tree and privacy fence. We know our neighbors, we are all on friendly terms and we do see each other and hang out occasionally -- but we don't need to be constantly staring at each other, minding each other's business, or dropping in! Ugh!! OK...just call me antisocial....I'm expecting it!

  25. #25
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Our front porches in Boston were used mainly during house parties, where those who smoked and others could interact. Our front porch down here goes mostly unused. There are two reasons: 1) the door between our home and the front porch is a solid metal door with a peephole and no screen door*, 2) it is just too hot in the summer to hang out there. Moral of story: the connection between the home and the porch is also essential to the use of a porch.

    *It's an apartment, so we are not about to spend money on a screen door.

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