Why shovel-ready sites are the death of us and how to stop them
Ten reasons "Third Places" are important to individuals and communities

Can we save our vanishing "Third Places, repositories and fonts of community culture?

By Ray Oldenburg

Most residential areas built since World War II have been designed to protect people from community rather than connect them to it. Virtually all means of meeting and getting to know one’s neighbors have been eliminated. An electronically operated garage door out front and a privacy fence out back afford near-total protection from those who, in former days,would have been neighbors.

Here and there one sees evidence of people struggling against the anti-community character of the postwar suburban landscape. A rare vacant lot attracts dog-owners who, near day’s end, time their visits so as to maximize contact with others. The animals “doing their business” constitutes a social high point in their owners’ day.

Beneath a shade tree by a convenience store one sees working men drinking a beer which they may not consume inside, and enjoying the company of other men for which there is no provision inside. Elsewhere, men and women build a meager social life around visits to a laundromat, a most unlikely place, and yet many laundromat owners add amenities so as to capitalize on people’s frustrated need for affiliation.

Such embers of human association signal the flaw in much of today’s residential land use pattern — all space is used up and there’s no provision for a community life. What should be local is remote, and because it is remote it serves no community at all.

What suburbia cries for are the means for people to gather easily, inexpensively, regularly, and pleasurably — a “place on the corner,” real life alternatives to television, easy escapes from the cabin fever of marriage and family life that do not necessitate getting into an automobile.


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