Has Central Air Conditioning Killed Community Cohesion?


Obviously this weekend was a bit extreme but I think my theory my have some truth to it. One of things that I immediately loved upon moving to Petworth was the fact that many hang out on their porches after work and folks travel from porch to porch having serious conversations. You know more than just a “hey how you doing?”. Folks are actually spending time hanging out together because they like each other but also because it can be damn hot in the house without AC. So I’m wondering with all the new renovations coming with central ac do you think that has an effect on the overall community feel of a neighborhood?

12 Comment

  • We still hang out on the porch, and we are thinking of getting electricity out there to support a box fan, for cooling and to chase off mosquitos (plus to see if we can get a PoP shot for holiday lights…).

  • Yes, I would agree with your premise. The AC may drive folks inside and away from the porches and community. But like the one-room schoolhouse, some things need to change. I have central AC (though it is not-so-convienently fritzing right now), but still sit on the porch on occasional hot evenings, greet and chat with the neighbors, and other passers-by.

    Yet, in no way would I forgo AC, return to sleeping porches (a possible future blog topic, perhaps?), and tolerate living in this oven of a city. Moving here from Atlanta years ago, I thought “600 miles north, this should make summers more tolerable”, and was sorely mistaken when that first summer rolled around.

  • We do not have a/c. We spend a lot of time on the porch. And yes, porches on our block get used a lot in the spring and fall, but not so much in the summer. IMO, a/c does decrease community interaction.

    And SC, I think sleeping porches are neat!

  • What are sleeping porches exactly? Are they special or is it just when someone sleeps on their porch?

  • @ Kalia: When many of the houses in Petworth and elsewhere in the city were first constructed, there was no commonly available AC, and the mall and much of the surrounding area (including nearly all of SW) was still swamp, so sleeping the summer was a challenge. Thus, many homebuilders would build homes with small, upstairs porches, where a bedroom would otherwise go. They would often be open, covered in mesh, or slightly enclosed, but the point was that residents could sleep outdoors to lessen the oppressive heat and humidity that would collect indoors, and also avail themselves of whatever breeze may blow through.

    Since times have changed, all houses I have seen that would likely have had a sleeping porch have since enclosed it. When looking at the backs of Petworth homes, those that don’t have siding or other newer facades will often have one upper corner that stands out – for instance, the back of our house was brick, since covered over in stucco, but the sleeping porch was wood/was since enclosed in wood, and since it is not stuccoed, one can see that it was built differently than the rest of the house.

  • Thank you for explaining this to me! I actually have a sunroom off my room that was probably once a sleeping porch. Now that its closed in and has all those windows its so hot in there I couldn’t imagine sleeping in it in the summer, although it does make an excellent guest room for the cooler months!

  • Saf, you have no A/C whatsoever? Woah.. that must be tough, especially with the summers getting hotter by the year, especially in the cities.

  • In pre-air-conditioning DC, husbands would send their wives and kids to the beach in the summer. “Summer bachelors” they’d call them, and they’d usually get into a lot of trouble, without mom keeping them in line. Those stuck in DC who were fortunate enough to have a yard, would roll out blankets and sleep under the stars, since indoors was like an oven. EVERYBODY was out on the porch and everybody talked to everybody else. You had to, you couldn’t avoid it. AC hasn’t killed community cohesion, but it gives you one more reason to avoid the neighbors.

  • I have read that Lincoln Park and other parks in the Capital Hill neighborhood used to be filled with folks sleeping outdoors in the summertime.

  • I think you might be onto something, PoP – I’ve been thinking for a while that A/C, cars and other modern American luxuries might be taking more away in community atmosphere than they give back in convenience. Take iPods – I bought a bike last week and don’t wear earphones while I’m on it, as a result I feel much more part of the city than when I’m walking and listening to music (still need the music for the metro though – I can’t deal with the tourons and Hill interns).

  • G – nope, none. I like fans. Maybe someday we’ll decide it’s worth the money, but not yet.

    Gleb – talk to the old timers around here and you’ll get stories of sleeping on the grass at the soldier’s home. Go a bit south, and you’ll hear about sleeping out by the reservoir. (For the last few years, a friend of mine has been based in Kurdistan. She tells me they sleep on the roof of her apartment building most nights in the summer.)

  • no, i think we can chuck that up to deindustrialization, the elimination of various social programs, the prison industrial complex, and a lack of accountability. yeah, i sure do miss those good ol’ days.

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