The History of the Stoop
Returning from WWII, my dad (left) poses on the stoop in Chicago with his siblings. (My dad served in the Navy on the USS Roi aircraft carrier.)
I grew up in a city of stoops. Chicago was and still is a place where you can gather, take a load off, and watch the world go by with your neighbors. Sure, a stoop is a set of stairs that lead you from the sidewalk to the front door, but it’s so much more.
The stoop is an in-between space that’s neither and both at the same time. While it’s your personal entryway to your home, it’s also a spot where anyone is welcome to greet you and join in on what’s happening. Mostly, it’s a special gathering place that makes it safe to share what’s in your heart and on your mind.
When you decide to sit on the stoop, you’re making a decision to bear witness to yourself, to your neighbors, and to those who pass by. The stoop is both the best seat in the house and the backdrop to life’s most meaningful moments. You might witness a family capturing a wedding photo or new babies carried from the hospital to their new home, each crossing the stoop’s threshold where new memories wait to be created.
For my family and so many Chicagoans, the stoop has always been a way to take care of their own. My dad was a mailman (we call them letter carriers today) for thirty-five years. When he finished his route, he’d sit on the stoop. Neighbors would notice if his smile was the same as the day before or slightly different. They’d ask, “How you doin’, George?” At this point, my dad could have a mutter about us kids, chat about the Chicago Bears, or talk about his worries. The stoop was our go-to spot during the dog days of summer because none of us could afford air conditioning. If we were gonna sweat, we might as well sweat in good company.
The thing I loved most about the stoop and still do is that it’s an open invitation to connect. When someone is on the stoop, there’s an understanding that you’re welcoming anyone to check in, weigh in, or pull up a seat. I’ve seen marital spats solved with the help of neighbors. I’ve had people share some of their biggest worries and fears with me, and I’ve done the same.
There’s something magical about the stoop—a natural and familiar rhythm to communing with a stream of neighbors as they float by, each one capturing your attention because your seat faces the street. You might wave as a familiar car passes, exchange hellos with people on their walks, and resume your stoop conversation on the steps, never missing a beat even when you admire someone’s shoes or share an animated smile with a baby in tow.
My dad (right) on our back stoop with his mate before his was deployed in the Navy.
My mom's brothers chat on the stoop on Washtenaw Avenue in Chicago.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the stoop’s ability to make people feel safe so they can share in ways they don’t seem to do as easily anywhere else. That’s why the idea of the stoop is at the core of all I design and create. There is nothing I am more passionate about than creating safe places and conversations for people to be authentic—whether at work, at a dinner dialogue, or in everyday life. I want all our conversations—at work especially—to feel like a gathering on the stoop.
Let’s co-create conversations that matter for you and your teams at work. Join one of our online Stoop dialogues where we practice and strengthen our listening as well as discuss conversation and empathy skills. Or I encourage you to use the POD process in your teams that helps you self-facilitate stoop conversations at work. Questions? Contact me here.