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#PowerofPorches: Remedies for social isolation are simple, but require effort

Creative Commons Photography by Peter Roome
June 6, 2016

Remedies for Social Isolation are Simple, but Require Effort, Margaret Krome writes about the importance of making community connections, or simply the impact knowing one’s neighbours makes on our social capital and the relationships we hold. The #PowerofPorches speaks about the loss of social connections within our communities and how certain remedies may seem simple, yet require effort on our part to overcome the social isolation that exists. Do you have a story about a community connection made on your porch? Share it with us @SConnectedness and include the hashtag. Margaret’s full article is reprinted with permission below:

My husband and I enjoyed dinner on our front porch last week with our daughter Rosemary and her friends Abby and Adriana. Neighbors dropped over to chat, passers-by greeted us as they strolled past, and we relaxed into the connections that ground our lives in those of our community.

Last night, again sitting on our porch, we discussed topics we each considered worthy of this week’s column, generating a list that ranged from the profound to the curious. One topic, suitable for the Memorial Day holiday, was the personal anguish that many snipers and other military personnel must feel when their mission calls for them to kill another human, unknown to them but nonetheless a living person with a family, community, and personal beliefs. We pondered misogyny in this year’s presidential campaign and what it means. We discussed Madison’s ubiquitous construction projects and the nature of growth and limits to growth in our urban center. And then Adriana stated her topic simply as “the power of porches” — and we all understood its significance.

Among our country’s unlikely voting patterns this year, one of the most discussed is the impact of the alienated voters — those who benefit from government in countless ways but resent and disparage it and the people associated with it. It’s a sort of anti-communitarian voting bloc. Many have speculated on the source of these celebrated angry voters. Is it the increased commute times or the loss of attachment to spiritual communities? The lower wages following the Great Recession, the self-referencing bubble in which social media can place us, or the influence of a 24-hour news cycle that plays on people’s fears and anger? Has something as mechanical as gerrymandering in congressional districts led to a volatile and unproductive Congress that has made itself a legitimate target of voter anger? The last reason is least persuasive to me, since many of the angriest voices come from people who vote Republican, and the House has been in Republican hands for years now.

I think it more likely that a true cultural shift is happening in our nation and that it has many causes. One surely must be the growing isolation in which people live their lives, the diminishing power of churches, synagogues, and other spiritual homes to incubate shared values and community, and the increasing role of surrogate social interactions people pursue through the internet. Research suggests that even social media sites whose purpose is to connect people generate higher levels of loneliness the more one visits them. Which brings me back to front porches.

Adriana wasn’t talking about our front porch as a metaphor but rather as a specific, real community gathering spot. Abby said that last summer, living in an upper-story Philadelphia apartment, she brought her dinner downstairs to eat on their front porch, meeting neighbors in nearby buildings and making friends, even some close enough to attend their wedding later in the year.

In how many communities do zoning and planning bodies require sidewalks and front porches and community gathering places? And in communities where homes have no sidewalks or other natural gathering places, who organizes block parties, progressive dinners, and community poker games? Those who care about community connection have relatively simple remedies at hand — taking the time to organize and prioritize to build it.

Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times.