Liz—that’s Liz Clayton if you don’t know—mentioned something in passing today that just happens to be one of my most favorite things ever. She was speaking on Brian Lehrer about the rise of coffee culture in New York, which is of course tied into the rise of café culture. In describing a bit about this recent history she mentioned that New Yorkers particularly need a third space, that is a place that is neither home nor work, but a place to which we can feel some sense of connection.

The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg is a book I’ve mentioned before. It radically redefined the possibilities of public space for me by introducing the idea of the third place.  Oldenburg identifies regional and historical variations from taverns in the midwest to cafés in Paris and dissects them to see what makes them tick. He can go on a bit at times—I would love to see an edited version of this—but everything he describes is so resonant (even if it’s from another era or a foreign country) it’s still a compelling read. 

The worst sin of suburbia, as he points out, is to kill off these places, and while I grew up in rather an exotic suburbia, it was still suburbia. Aside from schools and friends’ homes and jobs when I was old enough to have them, I really don’t remember having any kind of regular hangout. I think that’s part of what I love about city life now (though third places are of course not urban exclusivities). I LOVE cafés and bars and bookstores and hangouts of all colors and creeds. The summer I spent in Seattle a few years ago could have been terrible for many reasons, but it was a delight because my circumstances (a tiny apartment right downtown) led me to spend a LOT of time in a couple of cafés and bars. I never felt like a stranger in the city because I knew half the barristas in town by name before the summer was over and I had a weekly appointment at a tavern near work where I was sure to see several friendly faces.

I would love to get to design a space like that some time, but in the mean time I’ll have to settle for hanging out in them. As I did this evening (Old Town, for those keeping score.)



This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 and is filed under urbanism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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