Porch sitting and potlucks bind neighbors together
“My uncle says the architects got rid of the front porches because they didn’t look well. But my uncle says that was merely rationalizing it; the real reason, hidden underneath, might be they didn’t want people sitting like that, doing nothing, rocking, talking; that was the wrong KIND of social life. People talked too much. And they had time to think. So they ran off with the porches.” — Ray Bradbury, from “Fahrenheit 451.”
Tucked away to the west of Railroad Square is a neighborhood with deep roots and new life. New families and retirees live in 100-year-old houses built by Italian immigrants. The West End embodies an eclectic mix of people, but most have three things in common – they want to be connected with their neighbors, they have front porches, and they use them. This is especially true in the Upper West End, a small neighborhood enclosed by Ninth, Lincoln and Wilson Streets, where neighbors recently got together, as they have for the past two years, to share a “Supper in the Street,” on 10th Street.
Even as the moon came out and the weather turned chill, and many of the children, worn out from running around and playing with their friends, were tucked into bed, adults huddled in groups catching up on news and getting to know some of their neighbors better.
Social events like this help break the ice and introduce the neighbors, said Ken Risling, 60, who has lived here for five years. He raised his family on Slater Street, near SRJC, where he said neighbors just didn’t talk to each other. When he moved to the West End, a neighbor came over while he was still unpacking to welcome him and invite him to an event. He now knows about half of the people on the block, some on a first name basis.
“People hang out on their front porches,” he said, “and that makes the neighborhood feel more secure.”
Several supper attendees commented on the porches – how many houses have them and that residents actually sit on them and wave to passing neighbors.
Heather Rosales, 50, who lives in a different section of the West End, barbecued for the Upper West End event. She also barbecues for the bocci ball nights on Fridays and said that her favorite thing about the neighborhood is the socializing. Jessica Hetherington, 37, one of the outdoor supper organizers, said she wanted to live in a transitional neighborhood with young, like-minded people. She said the neighborhood is fun and energetic, in spite of the heroine clinics and homeless shelter.
Pat Murray, 49, said the neighborhood has a lot of promise and energy.
“It’s trying to be a tight-knit community,” he said, adding that his wife remembers a very different neighborhood 15 years ago. She moved there from a horse ranch in West County and described the West End as bleak. He moved from Healdsburg into his wife’s house eight years ago.
Murray sometimes feels it could be safer for their 6-year-old son, mostly due to the transience of renters, but said he enjoys walking down to Railroad Square and the West End Farmers Market.
Allen Thomas, one of the directors of the West End Neighborhood Association Board, said that when people come home at 7 p.m. from a long commute, there’s no time to hang out with – or even meet – their neighbors. The Upper West End Supper, like the bocci ball nights and movie nights, provides an opportunity to “slow down and get to know one another.”
West Enders bring food or beverages to share to the West End Summer Bocci on Fridays at DeMeo Park at Polk and West Seventh Streets. The West End Farmer’s Market, on Donahue at Boyce, near the DeTurk Round Barn, runs through mid December and the 2014 West End Summer Movie Nights are Friday nights through September 5 by the Round Barn. The West End has also added a tiny, outdoor lending library.
In 2006, Michelle Norris posited that front porch sitting is a state of mind, in an NPR article, while NPR’s “All Things Considered” focused on American front porches. Norris introduced her readers to the founder of the Professional Porch Sitters Union Local 1339, whose motto is “Sit down a spell. That can wait.” Maybe the West Enders are blazing the trail back to bygone days of sharing gossip over the fence, swapping recipes and looking out for one another from their front porch perches. Just maybe, it will be contagious.