Originally brought to the Hudson Valley of New York by settlers from the Netherlands, this word is among the Dutch vocabulary that has survived there from colonial times until the present. Stoop, "a small porch", comes from Dutch stoep; (meaning: step, pronounced the same as stoop) the word is now in general use in the Northeastern United States and is probably spreading.
New York stoops may have been a simple carry-over from the Dutch practice of constructing elevated buildings.
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Traditionally, in North American cities, the stoop served an important function as a spot for brief, incidental social encounters. Homemakers, children, and other household members would sit on the stoop outside their home to relax, and greet neighbors passing by. Similarly, while on an errand, one would stop and converse with neighbors sitting on their stoops. Within an urban community, stoop conversations helped to disseminate gossip and reaffirm casual relationships. Similarly, it was the place that children would congregate to play stoop ball. Urbanites lacking yards often hold stoop sales instead of yard sales.
In her pivotal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs includes the stoop as part of her model of the self-regulating urban street. By providing a constant human presence watching the street, institutions such as stoops prevent street crime, without intervention from authority figures. In addition, they motivate better street maintenance and beautification, by giving it social as well as utilitarian value.
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- Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, New York: Random House, 1961
- Mario Maffi, New York City: An Outsider's Inside View, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2004