Overstuffed couches and weather-beaten chairs line the porches of students’ homes in the Oread neighborhood, near downtown Lawrence. And so it has been for decades, evidence of a front-porch culture that many students embrace.
Soon, though, tenants will be expected to haul their couches to the curb, after the city passed an overreaching ordinance in August banning upholstered furniture outside.
The concern behind the ban is understandable, as many upholstered sofas and chairs are stuffed with polyurethane foam, which is highly flammable. Removing the threadbare, hand-me-down furniture would certainly make student-filled neighborhoods easier on the eyes, and possibly increase property values. But for all of its good intentions, the ordinance oversteps the boundary between municipal government and property owners. Decisions about outdoor furniture within reasonable guidelines should ultimately rest in the hands of landlords.
Students are frustrated by the ban, saying it takes away from the college town charm and friendliness.
“The couch ban eliminates a lot of that social activity that takes place between people who are just passing by,” said Max Werner, a student at the University of Kansas. “This is the best part about small town America — just sitting on your front porch.”
It’s difficult to argue that outdoor upholstered furniture is a looming danger, considering it only accounts for 10 of 463 — about 2 percent — of building fires from the past six years. No question, the potential for destruction exists if a cigarette causes a furniture fire, but that’s true inside or outside. The most commonly reported culprit is “discarded smoking material,” which Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical department lists as the cause of 20 percent of all building fires in Lawrence since 2007. The problem of fires, however, is not unique to porches; many students smoke inside as well.
There still is no set date for imposing the ban, though city officials anticipate it may begin in November.
With no current plan in place to help move couches, expect to see piles of old furniture sitting out by the street. Lawrence should reconsider before implementing a ban that isn’t welcome or easily implemented.