Portland: Porchin’ It

10Oct06

One of the most productive days I spent back in the States was my day of doing nothing except sitting on a blanket in the front yard of my friend Jason’s house, drinking beer, eating, and talking with Jason and Alenna, Jess and Lea, Dirk and Nichole, Brien and his dog, Jason’s dog Kimba, and Jason and Alenna’s son Jude. Since most houses in the States are now designed to wall off private space from the rest of the world, it’s becoming more and more difficult to engage in the venerable practice of the front porch party. In my dad’s hometown, St. Joseph (MO), it’s customary to ignite your 4th of July fireworks on the front lawn and neighbors and passers by are tacitly invited to join in if you have a specially explosive display. Similarly, I can remember riding my motorcycle through Detroit in the summer past block after block of neighbors holding barbecues in their front yards. More and more, however, the trend in California — and the rest of the nation — has been to move the house to the front of the lot to completely separate the yard from the street. Or — even worse — to simply fill the entire lot up with house so that there is no outside. This practice tends to divide the experience of living into encounters with commercial space, and then recessions into the private sphere, without any space left for public and improvisatory encounters with strangers — i.e. with the people who inhabit your locale and constitute your immediate community. So it was a real treat to spend the day porchin’ it — just kicking back in Oregon’s late summer weather, watching cars and dogs and parents and children pass by, enjoying conversation directly out in the world in a gloriously unfenced front yard. You don’t need to keep the world at bay if you actively participate in making it the kind of place you’d like to live in.

It was really nice for me to get a chance to meet Jason and Alenna’s son Jude, who smiles hugely every time a camera is pointed in his direction. It was also really nice to see Dirk and Nichole, who are now married, and to spend some time hanging out with my friend Brien, who I haven’t seen for a few years. Brien used to live in one of the coolest warehouse spaces in East Oakland, but now he lives on an island off of Seattle in a house that gets its water from a creek and demands the use of a composting toilet. Actually, these are the kinds of modifications we should begin thinking about making to all our houses — putting solar panels on our roofs, digging in grey water systems, insulating and planning to keep our energy consumption at a low. Having your own private space is no excuse for hiding from the commons.



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