The Third Place
Have any of you ever read it?
I'm sorry I don't feel well enough to write much about it, but it's main premise is that we don't have "third places" anymore in society, places that people can congregate in a relaxed atmosphere with no pressure to buy anything, to engage in stress-reducing conversation and to create impromptu community.
Since I often find myself pacing around at home wishing for such a place (Barnes & Noble? well yea, but no one strikes up a conversation. The local lunch counter? Well yea, but the locals are all construction worker type guys and it would be very weird for me to suddenly try to participate. The gym? No, too utilitarian and everyone's sweating too much to exchange more than a friendly grunt -- although sadly, the gym comes closest). Oldenburg's theory is that modern urban planning has worked so assiduously to get the kids and old folks off the stoops and out of the doorways and off the streets, urban and suburban America has become very sterile and has no more remaining informal public gathering places.
I think this book would preach, big time. It clarified for me why I crave time in Europe, where every city has dozens of "third places" for me to slip into and join the human race. Here, if I don't make plans with friends, my options for getting out of the house are either inherently solitary or consumeristic: go for a walk, go shopping, go to a movie, go to the library, get a massage or for some kind of beauty treatment.
That's why I used to like karaoke when I lived in Maryland, it was a "third place" that sprang up several nights a week that brought together a totally disparate crowd in the easy camaraderie of singing together, sharing a few beers, and engaging in a harmless, inexpensive communal activity unaffected by educational levels or economic status.
The book is four-star recommended.