Porch parties might seem like the latest trend, but they’re anything but new. In fact, they’re a part of American history and culture. From their humble beginnings in the South with its hot, humid landscape to various areas of the country with their adaptations of the outdoor living room, porches and gatherings helped fashion family and community life. Now as we are again moving towards New Urbanism or Neo-Traditional Development in the twenty-first century, these porch gatherings are continuing under the name of “porch parties”.
Before the invention of the telephone, air conditioning and television – and heirs: cell phones, smart wiring and the Internet – when a person would walk to where they wanted to go, porches provided a place for relaxation and entertaining much different than today. Aside from a school dance or church social, porches were institutions for community togetherness. However, with the post-World War II rise of soda shops, backyard barbecues and widespread media came the decline of porch parties, as they were known.
No longer do political figures rely solely on porch to porch campaigning or young couples share first kisses on the front porch swing. Rarely do you see children playing on the porch while their grandmother snaps green beans or see a father strumming a guitar as the sun dips below the horizon. Neighbors don’t just walk up and visit for no reason anymore-- or do they? As statistics indicate, these things are once again on the rise.
In the past few years, people have returned to spending more of their leisure time at home with their family and friends, taking their once private backyard functions around to the front, reconnecting with their community and re-establishing that neighborly conduct they witnessed or heard about as a child. Of course, some communities will testify to never losing this camaraderie, because they exist in mostly rural areas or are derived from a population whose families have spent generations in one neighborhood.
This multigenerational resurrection of the porch party is more than the satiating of a nostalgic longing or renaissance of things past. Families are realizing the importance of neighbors to the security of their own families. Along with safety, the reinforcing of community values is enhancing the quality of life as well as promoting active lifestyles, and a porch party provides the atmosphere to make these ideals flourish.
By requiring homes to be built with front porches, and in some areas, stipulating acceptable distances between homes and sidewalks, many new communities are doing more than incorporating green space into their neighborhoods. These communities are creating an almost immediate sense of belonging for their residents, and porch parties are showing up on more event calendars.
Now that spring is here, check your event calendar, and think about hosting your own porch party. There’s a lot more to enjoy about your porch than a quiet moment with your morning coffee or working in your prized container garden.
Your porch party can be as relaxed as waving neighbors up to the porch for cookies and drinks or as planned as a dinner club event. Your street or neighborhood can even host a progressive porch party for different appetizers, courses or cuisines. With room to expand into the front yard, porch parties are also a way to add diversity to a book or wine club. The important thing to remember is that a porch party signals a welcome to passersby.
If you’re ready to start planning your porch party, remember it’s an informal, relaxed event. Although invitations are often viewed as formal, they’re a good way of relaying the date, time and place to your attendees. If using invitations, let neighbors know it’s a casual get-together to catch up or become better acquainted. You can also use flyers, a bulletin in your neighborhood paper or word-of-mouth to get the message out; remember though, if using the verbal method, you may have to remind friends and neighbors more than once.
A porch party really isn’t about the food or drink. It’s about the socializing. Unless it’s a progressive porch party, keep the menu simple. Drinks and an appetizer or dessert are plenty. If you serve alcohol, always serve some sort of food with it, and make sure you have non-alcoholic beverages for non-drinking neighbors. If you schedule the porch party before or after dinner, guests will most likely have eaten something or will be eating soon, aiding with the consumption of alcohol. For an all-ages porch party, plan an activity for the young children such as a scavenger hunt or ask your neighbor’s kid’s band to unplug and put on a show for the teenagers. This way no one will need a babysitter; everyone will feel welcome, and the adults can socialize for a couple of hours.
Your front porch may sit seven to ten people comfortably, or it may safely accommodate fifteen or twenty standing. Make yourself aware of the occupancy limitation in regards to the structural integrity of your porch. Have fun expanding the festivities to the front yard if you need the extra space.
With neighbors, refreshments and music, you’ll have a lot to gain from a porch party. Whether you want a thematic get-together like “boardwalk at the beach” and “bluegrass on the mountain,” or a stroll-up where even joggers stop by for a minute, it’s up to you. Aside from all the fun you’ll have reconnecting with the community and its issues, you’ll benefit from the fresh air and fellowship. So put that porch to use!