I live on a street of rowhouses in Baltimore. Block upon block of brick and Formstone facades stretch in every direction. Friends are confused at my ability to find my way around. “They all look the same,” the friends have said. “It’s just a flat wall.”
They are wrong. Yes, the house fronts are flat. Yes, the blocks are long rectangles. Yes, everything is a right-angle, making this whole stretch of the city look boxy and impounding.
My friends and the casual observer make one oversight. These long stretches of walls are spotted with doors. At regular increments of fifteen feet, each set of three marble steps ascends to a door.
I believe in doors. Doors are connections. Doors are frames. Doors are license.
On my five-hundred foot long block, there are sixty doors facing the street. Each one of them attaches one family to the life of this neighborhood. There are very few other places where so many people live so densely with direct access to the street. Taller buildings get the filters of elevators and doormen. Suburban places get the distance of driveways and lawns. If doors are DSL, we have the highest speed connection in the world. We get to see a city live and change closer than some people get to watch television.
Doors are frames. From inside the house, the door establishes how much of the world you are going to deal with at any given time. Close it, and the world is away. Open it, and invite in a neighbor.
From outside the house, the door frames the building. It establishes how big a person is in relation to the structure. It worries me that pictures of glorious new buildings don’t seem to have front doors. These new glass cubes, these icy blocks of steel and concrete, bend and billow in the fantastic light of an architect’s pen. They are striking and beautiful. They are also meant to be seen from a distance, not from their own front door. They are built at picture scale, not in people scale. They say people are unimportant.
A door is not a door unless you go through it. That’s what makes it different than a window. We have many windows. Windows to the soul. Windows on life. Windows Vista. All of them bring information to you, close to your eyes. They are remote. You are stopped, and protected, by a pane of glass.
But a door is license. It is permission to enter and experience. Connect. This is hard to do when we build walls without doors. It is also hard when the doors we permit are further away from one another. This is one time when proximity is paramount. Without doors, we lose our curiosity as to who is on the other side. We lose our friendliness to an unexpected guest. We lose our empathy to a nearby neighbor. Our door becomes locked and sealed.
I believe in doors, and I believe they should be open.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.