Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Urban Boo-boos Part 1 – “The Forch”

Dateline: 12:41 pm June 1, 2011 Filed under:

Today’s topic in the first of a long line of Urban Boo-boos is The Forch. The fake front porch or the faux front porch.

You’ve all seen them in city and suburb; a front porch that may (or may not) look good from the street, that the builder or developer added to make the neighborhood look “old-timey.” But they are too small to be functional. As a result, they don’t get used and the neighborhood thus has fewer eyes on the street. Even if the street isn’t too wide, has sidewalks and a nice tree canopy and people are out walking, a forch can render the front of a house useless.

Most guilty are suburban developers who tack on a forch on their snout house, facing a street that is too wide with no sidewalks, and homes spaced so far apart that you can’t see many neighboring homes. Those that you see, you can see primarily the garage. Second most guilty are developers who would like to be called new urbanists but don’t quite achieve liftoff. Why build a porch nobody can use? Occasionally I see a forch in a center city area, like the one I saw yesterday on a row of condos facing the Milwaukee River – right on the Riverwalk, with people and boats going by, and the porch is hardly big enough for a chair and tiny table; an unfortunate forch (I noted that those condos hadn’t sold well – perhaps I had found one of the reasons!).

Note: my house has no forch or porch. I just have a front steps, or stoop, if you will, which trumps a forch and even a porch in some ways. On a front stoop you can sit on a slight elevation in relation to the sidewalk and watch the world go by. I find myself waving at neighbors and saying “hi” to passersby. On a porch you can hide a little, which is why I find my front steps more neighborly. You are out there, exposed, and everyone can see you, yet you are on your own property, so you have your place and strangers have theirs on the sidewalk.

I think the moral of the story is don’t build a forch. If the front porch isn’t done right, don’t bother. Often a good front stoop will do. But if you build a front porch, do it right. A common rule of thumb is at least eight (8) feet deep, at least big enough for a table and several chairs, and perhaps a swing or rocking chair. I don’t subscribe to finite rules, however. I say it comes down to a simple test – if it gets used, it probably isn’t a forch.

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