- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

The front porch, an American icon of simpler times, appears to be regaining popularity across the nation after falling out of architectural fashion several decades ago.
As architects and homeowners build or buy homes wrapped with large front porches, authors and social commentators praise the values cultivated by the communal aspect of the space.
"Porches appeal to people as a concept. I think they're back to stay now," Michael Dolan, author of "The American Porch: An Informal History of an Informal Place," told Gannett News Service.
The porch declined, researchers said, because of the proliferation of automobiles, which made people more mobile and created noise and exhaust fumes around once-quiet streets.
Air conditioning dealt a second blow to the porch by cooling people inside so they didn't have to escape outside to catch a breeze.
Nostalgia for the porch and the community it fosters has put it back into blueprints.
Front porches in America evolved from the Southern tradition as a median between the sweltering sun and the indoors, said Stephen Roulac, chief executive of the Roulac Group, a real estate advisory company in San Rafael, Calif.
"Porches signify a slower pace, a more gracious way of life when pedestrian travel was the norm," Mr. Roulac said.
This fixture of the American landscape evokes nostalgia for strong family and community bonds. Those values began to fade as families became fragmented and neighbors disconnected, said Alan B. Howard, director of American Studies programs at the University of Virginia.
Robert Putnam, public policy professor at Harvard University and author of the 2000 best-selling nonfiction social commentary "Bowling Alone," writes that front-porch appeal is a yearning for the values it connotes.
"American nostalgia in the late twentieth century is no run-of-the-mill, rosy-eyed remembrance of things past," Mr. Putnam writes. "It is an attempt to recapture a time … when communities really did 'work.'"
Porches convey the all-American message of family and home, and can be backdrops for the transfer of oral history between generations.
"It is a place to share stories and pass our cultural heritage from one generation to another," said Aurora University professor Ed Poole, author of "Lessons From the Porch," an inspirational book he wrote about his childhood.
The front porch also is "a metaphor for change," Mr. Poole said, calling it a place for reflection and the ideal atmosphere for rest and refreshment.
A rise in neo-traditional architecture has aided the resurgence of the front porch by "returning to a design that's centered on people, not the automobile," said Rob Bowman, president of Charter Homes in Lancaster, Pa., a home-building corporation that designs "communities" versus suburban developments.
New neighborhoods feature more houses with prominent front porches and garages in back. More people are attracted to towns like Celebration, Fla., where each house has a porch and programs like "Lights and Lemonade" encourage residents to invite neighbors to "sit a spell" in the cool of the evening.
Mr. Dolan, who is speaking today about porches at the National Building Museum, said the architectural feature is here to stay because "not only are they nostalgic and iconic people have come to appreciate them as an attractive and useful part of America today."

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