The Great Good Place (part 1)

I’ve just finished reading Ray Oldenburg’s Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community.  I’ve used Oldenburg’s idea of “third places” in my research on Second Life – partly adopted from Constance Steinkuehler’s work in game studies.  Mostly I’ve looked at some brief outlines of what Third Places are and they seem to fit pretty well with things I see in Second Life.   Even Oldenburg’s characterizations of Third Places seems to fit.

But I find myself disappointed after reading the whole thing. It is  hmmm…conservative….in the original sense of that word.  There is a great litany of things we have lost or are losing.   But I’m not sure what exactly we’re hoping to preserve?  The pre-industrial tavern? Pre-suburbia hangouts? Snooker? Male space in the basement?  Or just “third places” in whatever form they come in

At the gut level I’m with him.  I’ve mostly avoided life in the suburbs; have preferred living in walkable communities; have practically lived in “classic coffeehouses” (Daily Grind, Brewed Awakenings,  Brew Ha-ha, Cafe Netherworld, St. Marks, Paris on the Platte {amazing how much metadata you can crosswalk with a pitcher of coffee in front of you…}, Espresso Royale, Cafe Kopi..just to name a few).  Of course much of this was possible after Oldenburg was writing, after downtown renovations, after tangible results of new urbanism.  But let’s agree that the vomitous sprawl that happened at the same time is evidence that I’m not average (statistically speaking).

I’m not convinced that Ray would be all that happy about applying his idea to virtual spaces, as apt a description as it may be on the surface.  They seem to fly in the face of the core plea for the conservation of the precious resource of public third places.   I can even picture him spewing coffee/beer/whiskey (with chaser)  at the suggestion of it.

I now feel compelled to read Bowling Alone.  And too look a little more closely at what I’m seeing.  Maybe it’s a nice shortcut to slot it into a pre-existing account of what’s happening, or maybe it’s just obscuring a better explanation.

Steinkuehler, C. & Williams, D. (2006). Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as “Third Places”. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(4), article 1. (Link)

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