I wonder about things as I look around the spaces I travel. A lone dilapidated phone booth on a small town corner. An old mobile home smothered by kudzu. Even the occasional empty church sagging with the weight of generations. These scenes always make me wonder.
As I drive through the older parts of town I laugh at the fact the houses I grew up with have become tourist attractions. They’re labeled “historic districts” and all the beautiful details and designs are displayed with uniformity. Rules keep the “period” stateliness preserved for future dreamers.
I remember as a kid visiting my “Aunt Janie” in Cambridge, Maryland in the mid 60’s. Sitting on her porch after dinner with my Aunt and my “Nan” naming the cars that drove around the turn in front of her house. The porch wrapped around the house with metal gliders and chairs framing the front door.
My Aunt would quiz me as the cars drove by and wave to the occupants as they appeared in what seemed a procession of friends. At 8 or 9 I still thought you only waved at folks you knew. This is how I learnt of acquaintances. It seems to me now that “back then” you could know folks by seeing them around occasionally.
As I sat there on the squeaky glider watching cars and acquaintances slowly drive by I learnt to identify different types of cars and friends. All the different shapes, colors, and sizes captured my imagination that evening. I’m thinking that was the wisdom I missed as a young child. Like my “Aunt and my “Nan” packed a little lesson for me when I was older and wiser.
As I leave these areas today driving into the subdivided section that extend cities out into neatly placed streets I notice the vibe changing. The acre of brush between homes feels private. The front of the homes have been built for “curb appeal”. Which means no porch. Just a few miniature columns reminiscent of past grandeur framing an ornate door.
These entrances are often not used; as the attached garage becomes the main thoroughfare where you can privately enter and exit the house without being seen. Unlike the homes I grew up with, all the front doors are closed, relics of the past. Plants replace people and silence replaced the television and radio noises that I remember filtering through screen doors.
So where did everyone go? Where did the sidewalk go? Why is everyone hiding. It seems the front porch was replaced by the back deck. All the homes have these sterile profiles displayed out front. The occasional flag or landscaping hints at the occupants. Man sized privacy fences encircle the back yard creating these miniature demilitarized zones of privacy.
Houses sit back off the road often hidden by “S” shaped driveways. A scrim of trees create an obstructed view of the home front. A hint of militaristic planning. I’m transitioning to a new vibe as I’m latently confused by the change of environment in my 30 minute ride. I haven’t waved to any friends or acquaintances in a few miles.
I’m not sure who started this architectural trend; although it’s pretty obvious he/she, or they were private folks with things to hide or hide from. Obviously they viewed the friendly nature of the front porch as a threat. It seems the “security” of the 6ft privacy fence wasn’t due to an insecurity about other folks, but an insecurity hidden by landscaping.
It’s strange that a social gathering around a back deck is hidden behind a landscaping bunker. Cars line the front driveway and the front of a home where sidewalks used to be busy with waving children on bicycles making noise with baseball cards fluttering on wheel spokes.
Now the faint sound of music from the backyard has replaced screen filtered music or television chatter through the front screen door. Acquaintances have become strangers and waving is reserved for friends. Our community is fragmented by sub divided suspicion protected by a garage door that leads to a kitchen hidden behind landscaped borders.
I can’t speculate on architectural intention or city planning goals. I also haven’t figured out what was appealing to us about this strange cultural shift. I can infer that the suspicious nature of citizenry becomes obvious. The incessant need for boundaries is obvious. Where does the line between privacy and community lie?
Culture survives no matter. The future will hopefully see through all these human boundaries and intentions. I hope it’s embarrassing to future generations and front porches once again become a place to wave. You can’t become acquainted with all the colors, designs, or sizes of cars and folks from a backyard deck overlooking a landscaped wood line, it’s just not natural!