In his book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community, sociologist Ray Oldenburg suggests citizens should live in a balance of three kingdoms: home, work, and social. The social space would be the third place – a great, good place.
This is what the local “community center” was supposed to be. Some community centers succeed because of their inclusivity and community roots. Senior citizens go to the community center not to play bingo, but to meet each other and talk. The same applies to the kids who hang out at malls. Libraries, bookstores, and bars serve the same purpose.
This is what Starbucks‘ Howard Schultz had in mind when he imported the idea of the Italian coffee house to the US. The only problem with the model is the cost of the coffee. In some ways, we could argue that Starbucks is exploiting our psychological need for community to make excessive profits.
In order for the city and its neighborhoods to offer the rich and varied association that is their promise and their potential, there must be neutral ground upon which people may gather. There must be places where individuals may come and go as they please, in which none are required to play host, and in which all feel at home and comfortable. If there is no neutral ground in the neighborhoods where people live, association outside the home will be impoverished.
Is there a “neutral ground” in your neighborhood? Why or why not?
Urban developers and designers must be held accountable for the lack of public space.
So how do we begin placemaking?
The attributes of a “great place” are also the attributes of community building.
So why do developers ignore these when they design neighborhoods?
Development policy must not be driven by developer profits, and yet this is the case almost everywhere. Our leaders are not interested in building healthy communities. Their interests lie with their sponsors.