BOOK REVIEW AND   SUMMARY                  0THE GREAT GOOD PLACE BY RAY  OLDENBURG    Wali Memon
Book Review and Summary   The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg  Book Review and Summary                                  ...
Book Review and Summary                      The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg       Around the world, people come tog...
Book Review and Summary                     The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg       Oldenburg’s third place is the cor...
Book Review and Summary                       The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburgfriendships are developed and maintaine...
Book Review and Summary                     The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg(p.18), but believes that his criticisms ...
Book Review and Summary                      The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburgcultures” (p.125) in that it offers scal...
Book Review and Summary                       The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg       In the third part of his book, O...
Book Review and Summary                     The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg       Oldenburg’s opinions and statement...
Book Review and Summary                      The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg       The book is rife with statements ...
Book Review and Summary                     The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg       “I recently chatted with a practic...
Book Review and Summary                     The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg       That this book is published as an ...
Book Review and Summary                      The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburgforums, blogs, cyber-cafes, social netwo...
Book Review and Summary                      The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburgdislikes of American culture, rather tha...
Book Review and Summary                     The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg                                     Work...
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Book Review – The GGP

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This book explores, analyzes, and advocates for informal public space in communities. The book paints a vivid portrait of many public spaces, their general features, and a hopeful tone of including them in modern urban landscapes.

In Part I, the author defines the concept of "the third place," which are "the core settings of informal public life" (p. 16). Third places take their rank from the idea that "daily life, in order to be relaxed and fulfilling, must find its balance in three realms of experience": 1) home; 2) work; and 3) social life (p. 14). The third place is: neutral ground (p. 22) where conversation is the main activity (p. 26) where people are available, almost around the clock (p. 32) and which is humble in appearance, actually plain (p. 37) in order to repel pretentiousness and foster a playful mood (p. 37).

In Part II, the author surveys third place examples, including German-American beer gardens, an American Main Street, the English pub, the French café, the American tavern, and classic coffeehouses from their origins in Saudi Arabia, to England, and then Vienna.

In Part III, the author covers various topics including gender, youth, urban planning, and hopes for the future. He's particularly hard on urban planners who seem, in Oldenburg's portrayal, to take great pride in getting absolutely no input from the public whatsoever about human needs. Indeed, Oldenburg's tone throughout is one of incredulity about how "...the course of urban growth and development in the United States has been hostile to an informal public life..." (p. xi).


The author's observations about the expansion of freeways, suburban sprawl, and car sizes from the 1980's seem quaint when compared to what would develop into gargantuan 21st-century sizes. In fact, although the author provides a passionate portrait and enthusiastic blueprint for public spaces, it may be that the social customs and habits these places engender, support, and require may no longer be in the repertoire of the generations of people alive now, many of whom have grown up unfamiliar with positive public space and perhaps antagonistic to even the idea of public space (as useless or suspicious places where people are lounging about not "doing anything.")

Oldenburg provides some analysis and thought to why third places are so hard to sustain. He describes how modern techniques of restaurant design, selling food, beverages, and products encourage restaurant owners to squeeze every penny of profit from every unit area of a place. This often involves short-term gain (e.g. "ladies night" at bars, more expensive food, and hustling customers out) that lead to loss of the long-term goodwill and affinity that patrons might have for a place. I think Oldenburg is a bit derisive of retailers and restaurant owners who want to turn a profit. He does observe that third places are not run as charities. Also, no profit means no place. Today, excellent third places might be profitable .

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Book Review – The GGP

  1. 1. BOOK REVIEW AND SUMMARY 0THE GREAT GOOD PLACE BY RAY OLDENBURG Wali Memon
  2. 2. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg Book Review and Summary 1The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg Wali Memon
  3. 3. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg Around the world, people come together to share companionship andconversation. There is no single definition of what constitutes a community socialmeeting space; the concept has different meanings to different people. In his book 2The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg offers advice on what he believes makes theideal informal public social setting. In Part I of The Great Good Place, Oldenburg introduces his theories byexamining the places in human life. The first place is home. Home is the privateplace to which an individual retreats and rests. It is a place for family. Home is not agood place for friends to commune and socialize because not all the people presentwill be comfortable with the setting or the presence of damageable personal objects.The home also usually lacks sufficient furnishing and seating for social gatherings.The second place in people’s lives is work. Work is the productive, structured, andcompetitive setting in which people earn a living. The private work setting is hugelyinappropriate for leisurely, informal socializing. The first and second place rankingsof home and work are both in order of necessity in people’s lives and the amount oftime typically spent in each setting. After examining these two critical places inhuman life, Oldenburg offers insight into a third place humans go that to him isequally critical. Wali Memon
  4. 4. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg Oldenburg’s third place is the core setting of informal public life. Heobserves that a successful third place is on neutral ground where everyone can feelcomfortable to gather and go and come as they please. The third place is a leveler; it 3is a public establishment that is blind to the rank and status of individuals and isinexpensive to frequent. Third places maintain low profiles through unimpressiveexteriors while maintaining interiors that are comfortable and welcoming. Visitorsto third places are virtually assured the presence of friends and the promise ofpleasant banter. Third places develop character through the personalities of theirregular visitors. Most importantly, third places are characterized by the dynamic,interesting, and inclusive conversations that occur in the place. Oldenburg argues that the benefits of third places are precious and vital.“The leveling, primacy of conversation, certainty of meeting friends, looseness ofstructure, and eternal reign of the imp of fun all combine to set the stage forexperiences unlikely to be found elsewhere” (p.43). The third place contributesnovelty and perspective into the lives of visitors. In conversing with the widegroups that frequent third places, individuals develop human relationships and canreflect on and learn about society. Companionship and humor are the “spiritualtonics” (p.55) that enrich the lives of third place visitors; through conversations Wali Memon
  5. 5. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburgfriendships are developed and maintained that fill the human need for “intimacy andaffiliation” (p.63). Oldenburg concludes this examination of third places by presenting the 4problem of place in America. America lost what weak beginnings of third places ithad in the past in the form of main streets and informal social clubs. According toOldenburg, both urban and suburban modern America suffers from a deficiency ofthird places. Americans today shuttle between home and work, filling theirunoccupied time with antisocial television and consumerism. What few third placesAmerica does offer are not on the convenient residential street-corner, they are loudestablishments to which patrons have to drive in distasteful cars. Leisurelyconversation is absent from these American places, patrons sit isolated and onlyacknowledge previous acquaintances. There is also the problem of the Americanbar being a drunken and inhospitable environment. Bars are loud and disorderlyand do not qualify as successful third places. Elite social clubs do not constitutethird places because the general public is not welcome in the locations. The lack ofthe third place in America results in the isolation of individuals, the buildup ofstress, and the absence of friendly outlets in society. Oldenburg expresses regret atthe need he feels to present American third places in “sour and unpleasant notes” Wali Memon
  6. 6. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg(p.18), but believes that his criticisms are productive in directing American readersto the support of third places. Part II of the book is a tour through various international third places. 5Oldenburg begins by examining the old-world German and early German-Americanbeer garden. This informal social place was the “base of viable community life”(p.90). The lager beer garden was a “parent form of association out of which themore formally organized activities would emerge” (p.90). The establishmentswelcomed people of all genders and ages, and didn’t impose prohibitive prices. Thenext third place visited is Main Street of small town America that flourished until themid-20th Century. Oldenburg reflects fondly on the activity of strolling up MainStreet to break routine and catch up on gossip. This was a place where peoplewalked and interacted; they did not drive cars or sidestep one another. Childrenplayed on the sidewalks and streets and old-timers sat outdoors socializing. FromMain Street USA, Oldenburg travels to the English pub, which, “unlike the Americantavern or cocktail lounge...enjoys a good press, an aura of respectability, and a highdegree of integration in the life of citizenry” (p.123). English pubs are actuallymulti-environment clubs, where rooms divide activity and create atmosphere.Oldenburg presents the pub as “superior to drinking establishments in most other Wali Memon
  7. 7. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburgcultures” (p.125) in that it offers scale and warmth. Pubs are welcoming andencourage laughter and leisure. The cafe is France’s version of the third place. “Lebistro (as the French usually call it) encourages visits of longer duration than the 6pub and is an even more available institution. Paris has thousands of sidewalkcafes.” (p. 146). The bistro is scenic, inviting, and never a far walk from the modestFrench residence. The bistro institution is important in the French culture;Oldenburg states that “the French expect more from their institution than doAmericans, and theirs ha(ve) provided the tripodal base of the good life. Thefulfillments of home and work coexist with a full, informal public life available to allFrench people” (p.163). In the American colonial era, “the tavern was the focal pointof community. Combined with lodging facilities as an inn or ordinary, it was a‘forum and a community center’” (p.165). However, the American tavern is now a“failing institution” (p.166). The private consumption of alcohol has become voguein America, rendering taverns endangered species and contributing to major socialproblems. Remaining taverns suffer low-class regular patronage and do notpromote friendliness and conversation. Oldenburg concludes his tour of thirdplaces by looking at classic coffehouses across Europe that cherish association andelegance and attract all members of society to the warmth of their tables and brews. Wali Memon
  8. 8. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg In the third part of his book, Oldenburg addresses forces that threaten thirdplaces. He begins with a criticism on urban sprawl and how the phenomenon hasendangered third places in America in a chapter entitled “A Hostile Habitat.” 7Second, he tackles the problem of third places being open to all ages and genders. In“The Sexes and the Third Place,” Oldenburg surmises on the importance of bondingwithin genders. A large portion of the chapter is devoted to the mourning of all-male bonding institutions. He asserts that males need a sanctum to reduce pressureand this will pour over into an improved home life. In “Shutting Out Youth,”Oldenburg laments the social isolation of children and adults. He asserts thatchildren are “undesirabl(e)...in our present culture” (p.266) and are eitheroverlooked or overscheduled. Teenagers are also socialized at malls, which arehighly controlled environments focused on consumerism and consequently poorthird places. Oldenburg concludes his book with a plea for better third places. Headvocates the defragmentation of American society and return to a lifestyle thatincludes a positive, public social sphere. His parting message to “those who despairof suburbia’s lifeless streets, of the plastic places along our ‘strips,’ or of thecongested and inhospitable mess that is ‘downtown,’ it is: It doesn’t have to be likethis!” (p.296). Wali Memon
  9. 9. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg Oldenburg’s opinions and statements in The Great Good Place are undeniablycontroversial. His explorations of third places are thought provoking; however theyare interlaced with statements that are anecdotal, highly-biased, and at times 8outrageous.Although the ideal of social communities interacting is probably well-received(socialness is usually an attractive concept), Oldenburg’s persistent criticism andnarrow-view of American social customs is likely offensive to many readers.Oldenburg also mainly limits his exploration of social places to Western cultures,overlooking the social habits of a large portion of the world’s population. Oldenburg presents several relevant issues pertaining to socialenvironments. He analyzes the forces and benefits of social interaction. Mostprovocative are his explorations into cultural habits and domestic issues. Socialgatherings and activities are interesting to explore and learn about, and thus add adimension to the book that piques social curiosity. However, the weaknesses ofOldenburg’s work far outweigh its intellectual merits. The book is full of subjectiveassertions and inconsistencies that insult a reader’s intellect. Wali Memon
  10. 10. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg The book is rife with statements that are unsupported and clearly amiss.Oldenburg presents various and conflicting opinions about drinking andintoxication. 9He asserts “European bars do not encourage compulsive drinking, as do those in theUnited States” (p.160). He offers no support to this statement, only presents it asfact. In other sections of the book he states that “Germans valued reduced potencyabove taste” (p.90) and he argues that European bars temper alcohol consumptionby offering alternative nonalcoholic beverages. Any reasonably intelligent personwould find these statements overly-general and susceptible to attack by counter-examples. Oldenburg’s views on the relationship between males and females aresimilarly unsupported and hopelessly antiquated. He states that “in a remarkableupsetting of the older order of things, women now have more freedom to cultivatefriendships than do men within the world of middle-class marriages. Moreover,women’s heightened status and earning power are increasing their independence”(p.252). Countless feminists and working moms in America would vehementlydisagree with these sentiments. Even more slighting is a statement earlier in thebook that must be recounted in its entirety to do justice to its full absurdity: Wali Memon
  11. 11. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg “I recently chatted with a practicing psychiatrist all too familiar with wife-beating. He lamented the decline of the neighborhood tavern in which he felt men could ‘let off steam’ and not have to ‘take everything 10 out on their wives.’ He was convinced that much of the irrational aggression and violence of the wife-beater is due to the lack of safety valves such as the lively tavern once offered to a far greater proportion of the population than it does today. My suspicion is that a good tavern keeps ‘steam’ from building up more than it provides a means to ‘blow it off,’ but there seems ample evidence to support both views” (p.80).One does not know where to begin with how wrong this passage is. To suggest thatwife-beating could be quelled by a visit to the local tavern is abominable. How manyvictims of domestic violence would agree that a visit to an establishment thatprimarily serves alcohol is a good choice for their partner? Of course, according toOldenburg, the tavern is supposed to focus on conversation and banter, not theconsumption of alcohol, but he should try to tell that to the wife-beater. Wali Memon
  12. 12. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg That this book is published as an academic work is offensive, to scholars andAmericans, on a very basic level. It is extremely negative toward American cultureand institutions and is blind or insensitive to the social and cultural environments 11that Americans embrace. The author calls Americans uncivilized and questions whypeople from any other country would want to be in their company (p.161). Thebook leaves readers with the impression that Oldenburg is hopelessly quixotic andnegative toward social environments and practices that don’t fit into his scheme. America offers a variety of social environments and public places that areculturally and ethnically diverse. It is rare to come across a community that doesn’thave some sort of local hangout. People commune at churches, schools, clubs,community attractions, dog parks, and coffee shops. Social interaction, althoughdifferent from in other nations, is not absent in America. Americans support theplaces they enjoy, and if a community desires a local pub, by the law of supply anddemand a pub will probably be opened in the area. Also in America, as seen across the globe, technology-enabled public socialenvironments are changing the ways people communicate. Virtual communitiesoffer many of the amenities Oldenburg looks for in his third places. They are public,inexpensive, and always-available forums for conversation and activity. Discussion Wali Memon
  13. 13. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburgforums, blogs, cyber-cafes, social networks, chat rooms, and even text messagingand email offer places for groups to participate in communication and socialexchange. Site design and format create virtual atmospheres. Technology even 12offers visual forms of distance communication. Public establishments that offer freeWiFi internet access to encourage this social intercourse. Wireless hotspots invitepatrons to linger over their meal or beverage and perform their online activities andcommunications. Variations on these practices and technologies were likely notcompletely absent when book was originally written, and certainly were present bythe time of the later editions, but are not included in the book’s analysis. It is likelythat Oldenburg would not accept the notion of virtual third places that don’t involvephysical presence and environment. However, people all over the world come tothese places; places where physical distance, borders, and cultural lines nearly don’texist and satisfying communication flourishes. The Great Good Place is a book that, on the surface, appears to have a highlyinteresting topic that both academics and laypeople can enjoy. Oldenburg’sdiscussion of the need for third places is poignant and engaging. His discussion ofthe third places of other cultures could have added a great deal of weight to thebook. Instead, he chooses to use the topic as an opportunity to rant about his Wali Memon
  14. 14. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburgdislikes of American culture, rather than to discuss the unique forms that thirdplaces take in the culture. This makes the book frustrating to read and erodes mostof the credibility the book has. 13 Wali Memon
  15. 15. Book Review and Summary The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg Work CitedOldenburg, R. (1999). The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, 14 Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. New York: Marlowe & Company. Wali Memon

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