I’m “attending” the bi-annual Walk Bike Places conference virtually this week. It sucks. We should be in Indianapolis, a town I lived in for a few years in the 1990s. We should be doing walking tours and bike tours and visiting amazing spaces and seeing one another. But, we’re not. I’m sitting at the same desk in my house that I’ve been at for going on five months now. There’s no passing period in the convention center hallway where I can exclaim to my fellow conference-goer, “The session on Porch Parties was so cool! I didn’t know what to expect!” But instead, I guess, I’m saying that to you.
Three years ago, I wrote this post about my front porch and made the classic mistake of implying that it would be the first of more. A lot’s happened in three years. The porch is much more lived in, we know our neighbors better than before, and the view is filled with more plants and flowers. I’m always thrilled when streetview gets updated and my thriving nine-bark bushes get an update. Here are some more things that I like about porches…
The session I attended this morning was called, simply, Porch Parties. I love my porch, so that session obviously was going to be on my agenda. A surprisingly simple placemaking and community-building program inviting people to meet their neighbors. They made it a verb (porching) and provided instructions. It doesn’t seem like you’d need instructions on how to sit on the porch, but when you’re rebuilding a lost culture, you need to help people figure out how to do it and why it matters.
Like everything else, gathering on porches has changed. Also, the Harrison Center is an amazing place that supports all kinds of artists, so the music in their #ScoialDistancePorching videos is really great. They even have a Spotify playlist of local (to Indianapolis) artists that you can listen to on your porch.
Honestly, all of the stuff the Harrison Center has been doing in their neighborhood over the years, and in the days of COVID-19, has been really impressive. Deprived of any chance to visit new places and experience new cultures any time soon, I’m just watching these videos for a while today.
Porches & mutual aid
After the murder of George Floyd, my North Minneapolis neighborhood went through a couple of very challenging weeks. Looting and arson took out most of our stores on West Broadway. Most importantly, Cub Foods was closed. In those first few days, the buses weren’t running, and without a car it was literally impossible to find food (beyond chips and candy) or baby supplies.
The cynic in me expected Cub may never open again. In its place, dozens of mutual aid support sites popped up. Needing to do something to help, and not owning a bulldozer to bring down shells of burned out buildings, I made my porch a drop point for people in my professional and social networks to drop off diapers, formula, household products and dry goods. I’d take the goods by the carload to one of the aid sites or a central storage area. We moved thousands of dollars worth of essential goods in just a few weeks. Every time I’d step outside, there’d be a box of diapers or a case of BIPOC hair products tucked behind a pillar.
With so much coming and going, our neighbors down the block finally worked up the nerve to come ask what we were up to. They needed a lot of these things themselves, and we’ve since been able to connect with them in so many ways. Thanks to porches.