Third Places for the 21st Century2024-01-30T12:29:05-05:00

Karen Christensen is consolidating chapters and adding new material, but not changing the tone or nature of the book so many people love.

Karen Christensen and Penn historian Michael Zuckerman collaborated on this passage in the introduction to the Encyclopedia of Community. It speaks to much that Ray Oldenburg, who was also one of the editors of that work, has written about third places, and to the challenges today that Karen is writing about in the new edition.

For most of history the community has been indispensable. Pioneers and settlers in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, for example, spoke pridefully of themselves as individualists when they were dependent on their neighbors for every sort of survival. They could not put a roof over their heads without the cooperation of others. They could not get in their harvests without the help of others. They could not deliver their children or doctor their sick without good relations with others. They had no savings system except investments in good will with others. They had no welfare or old age protection but the assistance of others. They had no public safety or defense against human enemies and natural disaster but the collaboration of others. To deprive a person of social interaction within their community – through banishment, shunning, or excommunication – was a fairly common, and extreme, form of punishment.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, for the first time in human history, at least some people – in the urban, developed world – could truly get along without cordial relations with their neighbors. Hospitals, trust funds, Social Security, supermarkets, contractors, banks, and the whole panoply of modern institutions make it possible to make money among people with whom one does not live and to secure essential services by paying fees to other strangers or specialist acquaintances who can be replaced, if necessary, by strangers.

Consequently communities – in industrialized, Westernized nations, at any rate – become more elective than imperative. In the United States, people are no longer Italian, or Republican, or Seventh-day Adventist because their parents were or because they have to be. They can embrace their Native American, or Norwegian, or Jewish heritage because they choose to celebrate that aspect of their repertoire of identities. Further, they can style it according to their own preferences and predilections. Contemporary Protestants, Catholics, and Jews alike customize their religions to suit themselves, and so do contemporary ethnic groups. We improvise our sexuality and abandon our old political partisan allegiances for an unprecedented independence.

But the absence of sustaining primary communities is no minor thing. Humans need to be connected, and without adequate communities we suffer from personal and social ills that include depression, poor health, and crime. At its most extreme, an absence of human ties leads to violence and extreme social disorders – one has only to think of the stereotypical

The world’s most eminent living world historian, William H. McNeill, author of the National Book Award winner The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community, concludes in the recent book The Human Web: A Bird’s Eye View of World History (published by Norton, 2003), that our future depends on finding new kinds of communities to replace those of the past:

Either the gap between cities and villages will somehow be bridged by renegotiating the terms of symbiosis, and/or differently constructed primary communities will arise to counteract the tangled anonymity of urban life. Religious sects and congregations are the principal candidates for this role. But communities of belief must somehow insulate themselves from unbelievers, and that introduces frictions, or active hostilities, into the cosmopolitan web. How then sustain the web and also make room for life-sustaining primary communities?

Ironically, therefore, to preserve what we have, we and our successors must change our ways by learning to live simultaneously in a cosmopolitan web and in various and diverse primary communities. How to reconcile such opposites is the capital question for our time and probably will be for a long time to come. (William H. McNeill and J. R. McNeill 2003, pp. 326-327).

For most of history the community has been indispensable. Pioneers and settlers in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, for example, spoke pridefully of themselves as individualists when they were dependent on their neighbors for every sort of survival. They could not put a roof over their heads without the cooperation of others. They could not get in their harvests without the help of others. They could not deliver their children or doctor their sick without good relations with others. They had no savings system except investments in good will with others. They had no welfare or old age protection but the assistance of others. They had no public safety or defense against human enemies and natural disasterbut the collaboration of others. To deprive a person of social interaction within their community – through banishment, shunning, or excommunication – was a fairly common, and extreme, form of punishment.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, for the first time in human history, at least some people – in the urban, developed world – could truly get along without cordial relations with their neighbors. Hospitals, trust funds, Social Security, supermarkets, contractors, banks, and the whole panoply of modern institutions make it possible to make money among people with whom one does not live and to secure essential services by paying fees to other strangers or specialist acquaintances who can be replaced, if necessary, by strangers.

Consequently communities – in industrialized, Westernized nations, at any rate – become more elective than imperative. In the United States, people are no longer Italian, or Republican, or Seventh-day Adventist because their parents were or because they have to be. They can embrace their Native American, or Norwegian, or Jewish heritage because they choose to celebrate that aspect of their repertoire of identities. Further, they can style it according to their own preferences and predilections. Contemporary Protestants, Catholics, and Jews alike customize their religions to suit themselves, and so do contemporary ethnic groups. We improvise our sexuality and abandon our old political partisan allegiances for an unprecedented independence.

But the absence of sustaining primary communities is no minor thing. Humans need to be connected, and without adequate communities we suffer from personal and social ills that include depression, poor health, and crime. At its most extreme, an absence of human ties leads to violence and extreme social disorders – one has only to think of the stereotypical

The world’s most eminent living world historian, William H. McNeill, author of the National Book Award winner The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community, concludes in the recent book The Human Web: A Bird’s Eye View of World History (published by Norton, 2003), that our future depends on finding new kinds of communities to replace those of the past: “Either the gap between cities and villages will somehow be bridged by renegotiating the terms of symbiosis, and/or differently constructed primary communities will arise to counteract the tangled anonymity of urban life. Religious sects and congregations are the principal candidates for this role. But communities of belief must somehow insulate themselves from unbelievers, and that introduces frictions, or active hostilities, into the cosmopolitan web. How then sustain the web and also make room for life-sustaining primary communities? Ironically, therefore, to preserve what we have, we and our successors must change our ways by learning to live simultaneously in a cosmopolitan web and in various and diverse primary communities. How to reconcile such opposites is the capital question for our time and probably will be for a long time to come.

Find yourself a third place

From Ray’s files: Subtitle suggestions

I’m going through the files Ray gave me to see what I can glean for the new version of The Great Good Place, or for this website or new articles. Here’s a list he made while the original book was in progress, and then the 2 subtitles that have been used on different printings. They weren’t really different editions, to my mind, because the main text didn’t change. But Ray added a new foreword when the book went to another publisher and was reprinted, and that material is being incorporated now. If it doesn’t fit into the new edition. I’ll make sure to include it here when we get closer to publication.

SUBTITLE SUGGESTIONS

  • Core Settings of Community Life
  • Friendship’s Temples & Their Functions in a Free Society
  • Havens in the Public Domain
  • Where People Are More Important Than Progress
  • Where People Rise Above Purpose
  • Where the Walks of Life Converge
  • Haven of Happy Times and Healthful Relationships
  • The Ultimate Experience of Community
  • The Importance of Informal Public Gathering Places
  • Why Home, Work and the Mall Are Not Enough
  • Welcome Centers of a Vital Society
  • Linking the Individual to Community
  • The Third Requirement of the Good Life
  • Sanctuaries of Social Support
  • The Vital Third Realm of Experience
  • The Art of Hanging Out and Its Several Benefits
  • Where Customers are also Characters
  • Time Out! Friendship In!
  • A Refuge for Social Animals
  • Urban Planning’s Greatest Oversight

1st (Paragon) Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You through the Day
2nd (Marlowe) SAME
3rd (Marlowe) Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community

Here is the working outline:

Part I: What is the Third Place?
1. Feeling Lonely in a Connected World
2. The Character of Third Places
3. The Pursuit of Happiness
4. The Greater Good

Part II: Third Places Around the World
5. Coffee Houses and Tea Parlors
6. Taverns and Beer Gardens
7. The French Bistro
8. The Public House
9. Street Life and Outdoor Public Spaces
10. Doing It Together: Dance, Gyms & Dojos, Pick-up Games
11. Social Infrastructure: Post Offices, Libraries, and Bookshops

Part III: Third Places Today and Tomorrow
12. Meeting Face to Face
13. Reshaping Towns and Cities
14. Diversity in the Third Place
15. Third Places for the Young at Heart
16. Nurturing the Next Generation
17. Towards Better Times and Places

Go to Top