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The Great Good Place
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The Great Good Place


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 …

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 .

Published in Spiritual
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  • 1. Wali Memon1 Wali Memon
  • 2. Presentation Outline Ray Oldenburg The First and second places The Third place Third places What they have in common Challenges for the Third Place in America Some of what happens without the Third Place Opinion about the book Third Places in the Information Age Resources2 Wali Memon
  • 3. Ray Oldenburg Urban sociologist from Florida The importance of informal public gathering places for local democracy and community vitality “Most needed are those ‘third places’ which lend a public balance to the increased privatization of home life. Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The phrase ‘third places’ derives from considering our homes to be the ‘first’ places in our lives, and our work places the ‘second.’” Wali Memon 3
  • 4. The First and Second Places The First: The Home Regular, predictable environment Sanctuary - not always good for socializing - private space Territorial - always division between guest and host The Second: The Workplace Reduces individual to single productive role Fosters competition, motivates ambition Provides means for living and material goods Structures life by providing routine4 Wali Memon
  • 5. The Third Place - I The Third: “the core setting of informal public life” Neutral ground: “we need a good deal of immunity from those whose company we like best” (p. 23) Leveler: “an inclusive place…accessible to the general public and does not set formal criteria of membership and exclusion.” (p. 24) Upbeat: “enjoy the company of one’s fellow human beings…not wallow in pity over misfortunes.” (p. 26) Conversation: “talk just the right amount,…all are expected to contribute.” (p. 28)5 Wali Memon
  • 6. The Third Place - II Accessible and accommodating: “one may go alone at almost any time of the day…with assurance that acquaintances will be there.” (p. 28) Low profile: “typically plain” “discourag[es] pretention” “come as they are” (p. 37) At Home-ness: No actual ownership Social regeneration The “freedom to be” Warmth (p. 41)6 Wali Memon
  • 7. Third Places - I The German-American Lager Beer Gardens: “Beer is one of the social virtues…” (p. 93) Open to families Leveler of social class Affordability Allowed social participation - formed friendships and matched interests Main Street: “allowed people to do nothing.” (p. 112) Short walk to get there Large enough for companionship Small enough to avoid division Frequent socializing and children playing on street’s sidewalks7 Wali Memon
  • 8. Third Places - II The English Pub: “…enjoys a good press, an aura of respectability, and a high degree of integration in the life of the citizenry.” (p. 123) Multiple areas within the establishment catering to different classes of society No frills - lack of formality and pretension Common-denominator appeal “Fellowship must prevail and it depends most upon informality.” (p. 125) Friendly atmosphere based on conversation8 Wali Memon
  • 9. Third Places - III The French Café: “places to dwell in.” (p. 145) Terrasses stretch out onto sidewalk Have no names - “le bistro” Provides venue for politics, writing, seating for street games, card games Allows for privacy or sociability The American Tavern: “a failing institution…even an endangered species…” (p. 166) Was “a forum and a community center, a place for genial self- expression” (p. 166) Rejection of public drinking establishments Private consumption of alcoholic beverages Trend moves taverns from residential areas - changes character, popularity and clientele9 Wali Memon
  • 10. Third Places - IV Classic Coffeehouses: “Coffee spurs the intellect…” (p. 184) Place to read the daily newspaper Quality service, good meals, reading room Included all walks of society10 Wali Memon
  • 11. What these places have in common Conversation Conviviality Social leveling Relaxation Bonhomie11 Wali Memon
  • 12. Challenges for the Third Place in America I Individualism: “This is not mine. I have no responsibility for this.” (p. 83) Suburbia: “offers no facilities for accidental encounters or for collective meetings; social participation beyond …family and friends is limited…” (p. 71) Mass media: “creates shut-ins of almost everyone.” (p. 211) Public facilities: “came to be objects of private consumption and use.” (p. 214)12 Wali Memon
  • 13. Challenges for the Third Place in America II Commercialism: “Give them nothing without charge…discourage the low-profit items…and push the big- profit items.” (p. 226) Consumerism: purchase the splendid isolation for themselves.” (p. 222) Gender differences: “marriage cannot afford all the togetherness presently imposed upon it.” (p. 248) Age differences: “Children are not compatible with a fuller realization of personal or liberated communities.” (p. 266)13 Wali Memon
  • 14. What happens? Individual and familial isolation No social outlet for stress Build-up of antisocial tendencies Lack of third place community building “Those who choose not to participate always have that choice but those of us who yearn for a public life and for life on the streets of our neighborhoods have been deprived.” (p. xxvii)14 Wali Memon
  • 15. The book… Explored and provided insight to an area pertinent to everyone Provided an interesting history, but was limited to European and North American societies Made some remarkable observations but were not always supported by researched evidence e.g. “Britain is the world’s third largest beer market” (p. 124) May need to be reconsidered in certain areas e.g. “…our big cities are filled with…starved and thwarted ‘characters’ who, because of the huge, blind fury of city living, must forever bottle up a free expression of their individualism, their love for living, to become one with the trampling mob…” (p. 106) “…where men are at ease and comfortable with one another, homosexual relationships are minimal.” (p. 250) “women have had, and continue to have, an advantage over men in the spare time available to them” (p. 236)15 Wali Memon
  • 16. Third Places in the Information Age Online communities - chat groups, blogs, forums, interest groups Internet cafés Areas with a wireless connection Collaborative learning Listservs Can these be considered third places?16 Wali Memon
  • 17. Resources and Applications Website Principles applied in: Educational Spiritual Communication patterns Design Project for Public Spaces17 Wali Memon
  • 18. Questions!18 Wali Memon