The Importance of Spaces To Meet People

Community life amongst tract housing is a disappointing experience.  The space within these housing developments have been barely equipped with little else but a stage for isolated family living.

The processes by which potential friends might find one another and by which friendships beyond the family domain might be nurtured outside it are severely hampered by the limited features and facilities of the modern suburb.

town planning

The housing developments lack of informal social centers, hubs or informal gathering places puts people too much at the mercy of their closest neighbours.  How does one even find out enough about someone a block and a half away to justify an introduction ?  Where do people have a chance to encounter each other, let alone get a chance to get to know one another casually and without commitment before deciding wheter to involve other family members in their relationship ?
Tract housing offers no such places with it’s stencil estates and monoculture designing getting together with neighbours in the development entails considerable hosting efforts, and it depends upon continuing good relationships between households and their members.  This is part of the great need for many third places (social spaces which people co-own and meet other people) distributed throughout the human landscape.
We are increasingly missing that third realm of satisfaction  and social cohesion beyond the portals of home and work, which is an essential element of a good and happy life integrated with the larger society and gaining all sorts of benefits from it.  In modern urbanity and suburbanity, comings and goings are more and more restricted to the home and work settings.  Those two spheres have become pre-emptive and dominant.
A two stop model of daily routine is becoming fixed in our habits as the urban environment affords less opportunity for public relaxation.  Our most familiar gathering centers are disappearing rapidly for a multitude of reasons.  The proportion of beer and spirits consumed in public places has declined from about 90 percent of the total in the late 190s to about 30 percent today.  There’s been a similar decline in the number of neighbourhood taverns in which those beverages are sold.
In the absence of an informal public life, people’s expectations toward work and family life have escalated beyond the capacity of those institutions to meet them.  Domestic and work relationships are now pressed to supply all that is wanting and much that is missing in the constricted lifestyles of those without community.  Two thirds of the visits to family physicians in the US are prompted by stress related problems.
“Our mode of life is emerging as today’s principal cause of illness” writes one physician in the US.  To our considerable misfortune, the pleasures of the city and urban landscape have been largely reduced to consumerism.  We don’t much enjoy our cities because they are not very enjoyable. Unfortunately, opinion leans toward the view that the causes of stress are social but the cures are individual.

In the absence of an informal public life, living becomes more expensive.  Where the means for relaxation and leisure are not publicly shared, they become the objects of proviate ownership and consumption.  “In our society,” insists one expert on the subject, “leisure has been perverted into consumption. An aggressive, driving force behind this perversion is advertising which conditions ‘our drive to consume and to own whatever industry produces”.

Increasingly marginalised is an understanding of these ‘natural habitats’ of the homo sapien which are social and the importance of an enriched landscape for people to function.  The dominant paradigm of economic thinking has been reduced and reduced towards a simplified version of life which resembles a balance sheet.  In this reduction, the complex and nuanced appreciation of those thinkers who elaborated cultural economics and the importance of merit goods have fallen by the way in favour of less messy formulas of demand and supply.
Social spaces need to be embedded throughout the landscape and the monoculture needs to be carefully re-engineered to hold the diverse elements which spring up in any given civilisation.  Over managing and planning to template need to be replaced with reflexive, dynamic processes governed by human beings – individuals who are invested in the terrain – before the economic, social and intellectual fruits which town planners seek will appear.

This digest is informed by the work of Professor Ray Oldenburg who is well known for coining the term ‘third place’. This narrative focuses on his well known book ‘The Great Good Place’


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