I was sitting on my lawn chair, watching my boys play on the sidewalk the other day, when a passerby grew irritated, asking me why I let my children play out front. When I had no better answer than: because they like it, the passerby sneered in annoyance and told me to put them in the backyard since "that's what it's there for."
Aside from shock at someone actually sneering outside of a comic book villain, I was surprised that someone took umbrage. We've played out front for years. The kids are relatively good about not getting in people's way. As is always the case, I didn't think of a truly witty response until well after the opportunity had passed, so I will now present my argument here on why the front porch is to be preferred to the backyard.
To be fair, what first started me thinking about this was a speech in JMS's comic series Rising Stars in which a superhero pleads with the nation to reclaim their front porches, to get to know their neighbours, to become fixtures of the neighbourhood once again.
Sitting up front does let us be a part of the neighbourhood. Since we started, I know who lives around us much better than I did before we had children. I know that the guy three doors down is very protective about his car and thus have trained Alex and Nathan not to go anywhere near it. I recognize the children in the houses around us because I see them walking home from school. I even figured out when a neighbour had a houseguest because I saw someone going into the house and knew it wasn't the regular person who lived there.
I can be pretty confident now that I can pick out someone who isn't usually in the neighbourhood, letting me keep an eye on any suspicious situations. I know which neighbours are likely to have problems with the boys and can make sure my kids don't make themselves targets.
Even better, a large number of people in the neighbourhood know Alex and Nathan and thus aren't likely to freak out if one of the boys tries to play in their backyard or tries to dash inside their house with other kids (incidents which have actually happened). If the boys wander off, I have a better chance of someone recognizing them and realizing they shouldn't be out alone.
The backyard is a place to be invisible and private and thus has it's own advantages. But I think we've grown a little too accustomed to the illusion of privacy and isolation. We're starting to have the expectation of privacy in public areas, which is ridiculous.
So I'm going to stick with my front porch.
Heck, maybe I'll even switch out my lawn chair for a swing.