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Friday, Feb 23, 2007 « Back to the Press Room

Students to New Yorkers: Please, have a seat.

Sit down. But, please, don't shut up.

That's the request from a trio of freshmen at a New York design school who say city residents just aren't taking advantage of an unnatural resource found in the front of many of their buildings: stoops.

In an Internet campaign inspired by a recent class project, Chelsea Briganti, Sarah Feldman and Essence Rodriguez are encouraging New Yorkers to sit on their stoops and get to know one another.

"I think this culture of social interaction has really been declining," Briganti said. "People are so busy, too busy to interact with their neighbors, and they're not building these kinds of really important relationships."

It all began a few months ago, as the three students were mapping Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood for a class at Parsons The New School for Design. They came across an elderly man named Bob sitting alone on a stoop.

"Bob mentioned no one says hi to him when he sits on his stoop," said Briganti, 24. "No one sits on their stoop anymore. He is from a generation where all the neighbors knew each other.... It was this big culture that he really misses, and he feels more alone now."

The students have no idea what happened to Bob (or what his last name is) but they took a cue and decided to research stoop culture, or the lack thereof, for the class.

Their process? Not exactly scientific.

Three groups were surveyed: the elderly, young families and "hipsters." Sample sizes were small about 15 to 20 in each group. And some of the interviews lasted just a few minutes.

Trends emerged anyway.

The older people had the same reactions as Bob, recalling days when they played on the stoops with other kids and held family barbecues. The young parents said they were too busy with the kids these days to sit on stoops.

The hipsters (a loosely defined group of young, unmarried people who sometimes wear ironic T-shirts) were often indifferent, and some said they preferred bars.

Stoop-sitting hasn't entirely disappeared in New York. Summertime stoop sales are common, for instance, and it's not unusual to see handfuls of teenagers munching on snacks while relaxing on a stoop at the end of a school day. Still, everyone agrees the tradition is far less common than in the past.

"I distinctly remember that my mom would say 'Where are you going,' and I'd say I'm going to go sit out on the stoop," said Ron Schweiger, Brooklyn's official historian, age 61. "People still do it, but not like it used to be back then. There's just too many things to do indoors to keep people busy now."

Some believe a lack of air conditioning used to drive people outside. Others, including Schweiger, point to television as one reason people stay inside. And then there's the Internet Web sites are in a sense the new stoops.

As part of their campaign, the students posted more than 100 lime green fliers with the words "SIT HERE" throughout Park Slope, on stoops or whatever public seating they deemed suitable.

Feldman, 18, even stuck one on an empty baby stroller.

They also set up a Web site encouraging people to post comments, participate in polls (Do you think people should socialize more with their neighbors? Nearly 80 percent say yes.) and even print their own flier.

The comments on their site and other sites that linked to the project run the gamut.

"When you played tag someone's stoop was always base," one writer recalled. "As a teenager you sat with the girl/boy you liked on a stoop, though not necessarily your own because at this age you wanted a little privacy. When you got married you made your exit from the house down your decorated stoop."

"On my block stoop culture died when drug traffic was born," another wrote.

Though the class project ended last semester, the women have kept the Web site going. Have they seen an uptick in stoop sitting? It's hard to tell, they say.

After all, there's a little problem with persuading people to hang out on stoops right now.

It's cold.

By NAHAL TOOSI, Associated Press Writer

On the Net

Sit Here: