Great Good Place
Interesting how most of these are private businesses. (Though cheaper than Starbucks.)
Table of contents
- The Problem of Place in America
- The Character of Third Places
- The Personal Benefits
- The Greater Good
- The German-American Lager Beer Gardens
- Main Street
- The English Pub
- The French Café
- The American Tavern
- Classic Coffeehouses
- A Hostile Habitat
- The Sexes and the Third Place
- Shutting Out Youth
- Toward Better Times... and Places
CHAPTER 5: The German-American Lager Beer Gardens
The German immigrant had the formula for merriment. It was so successful that it could be implemented daily without danger, disruption, or risk of failure.
Beyond the chemistry inherent in the flow of immigrants and the traditions they brought with them were two important aspects of the life-view of the Germans that governed their collective behavior. These were a passion for order and the realization that informal socializing lay at the base of a viable community life. The lager beer garden became the parent form of association out of which the more
formally organized activities would emerge. In order for the beer garden to play this important role, it had to have a unifying effect and never a disruptive one. It is not surprising, then, that the typical Yankee saloon left a great deal to be desired.
In the Yankee saloon, the drinks were too strong
That the Germans valued reduced potency above taste was amply attested to by Junius Browne, who wrote of the lager beer gardens in New York City in the 1870s: “The question, ‘Will lager beer intoxicate?’ first arose, I believe, on this island, and, very naturally, too, considering the quality of the manufactured article. I have sometimes wondered, however, could there be any question about it, so inferior in every respect is the beer made and sold in the Metropolis. It is undoubtedly the worst in the United States
The Germans clearly held standards of taste with respect to their national beverage. The sorry state of early New York beer, drunk under the pretense that it was good, as Browne suggested, serves only to show the greater importance they attached to temperance in drinking
The passion for order conquered alcohol and its use. Yet, for the saloon and beer garden to become an integral part of community life, cost also had to be controlled. The Yankee proprietor and host has always had a keen sense of his fellow citizen’s needs for release and diversion and had a knack for capitalizing on it. The German- American, on the other hand, demanded public places where costs were low and loitering and idleness were encouraged. Only if those conditions obtained could the saloon and beer garden become the universal gathering places of the citizenry.
New York’s Bowery area
During the late nineties there were four saloons on the southwest corner of State and Third Streets which sold two beers for a nickel and provided an elaborate free lunch of roast beef, baked ham, sausage, baked beans, vegetables, salads, bread and butter, and other appetizing foods. Two men with but a nickel between them could each enjoy a substantial meal and a mammoth beer
The German immigrants well understood that informal public gathering places were too important to the life of the community to cripple them by prohibitive pricing.
The first of Milwaukee’s many outdoor beer gardens opened on the northeast side near the river in the summer of 1843. It offered ‘well- cultivated flowers, extensive promenades, rustic bowers, and a beautiful view from Tivoli Hill,’ as well as a German brass band providing music one afternoon and evening a week, all for a 25¢ admission fee.”14
Orderly behavior and minimal expense were crucial to the ultimate inclusiveness and accommodation of the beer gardens. Everyone had to be allowed to participate lest those places fail in their purpose. The lager beer gardens were there for the children, women, and non-Germans also, and social class was largely forgotten
In the Atlantic Garden, which had been one of New York’s most celebrated beer gardens, inclusiveness was the essence. Browne reports: “The Atlantic is the most cosmopolitan place of entertainment in the City; for, though the greater part of its patrons are Germans, every other nationality is represented there. French, Irish, Spaniards, Italians, Portuguese, even Chinamen and Indians, may be seen through the violet atmosphere of the famous Atlantic. . . .”17 The Atlantic was a grand pavilion capable of holding twenty-five hundred people. It was the best the immigrant Germans could offer—and they offered it to one and all.
The inclusive or “leveling” character of the lager beer garden was most obvious in the more palatial establishments. Holmes provides a description of the world- famous Schlitz Palm Garden, the most notable indoor “palm gardens.”23 Boasting high, vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows, rich oil paintings, a pipe organ, and lush palms throughout, it, too, was a “poor man’s club.” It was policy to make the poor feel as welcome as the rich; social distinctions were not compatible with Gemütlichkeit
Browne estimated that Manhattan alone had three to four thousand lager beer gardens
The large and elegant gardens of the day may be viewed as the precursors of America’s contemporary theme parks. Atlantic Garden had, for example, an enormous front bar and many smaller ones. But it also contained a shooting gallery, billiards rooms, bowling alleys, an orchestrion which played daily, and multiple bands which played in the evenings
“German saloon was as much a family institution as the Irish bar was a man’s world.”30 Though unescorted women were not welcome in the German places, the entire family was, children included
Perhaps the most irksome aspect of lager beer gardens and the German saloons was that they were most appreciated, enjoyed, and populated on Sundays. From the culture of the enlightenment cities, the German immigrants brought with them the institution of the “Continental” Sunday. Germans were accustomed to finding their relaxation and the restoration of their soul in the form of picnic outings, concerts, scheutzen fests, gymnastics, choral singing and, above all, the rich and boisterous association afforded by the lager beer establishments
Unfortunately, the dominant modes of religious thought in America imposed idleness apart from work, particularly on Sundays
German-Americans, however, held fast against the conditions that produced the dourness of the typical Yankee. They did so, at least, until time ran out. Eventually the combination of W.C.T.U. morality, the bigotry of the Know Nothing party, two wars with Germany, and the willingness of German-Americans to assimilate relegated the lager beer garden and the life-style built around it to the past
CHAPTER 6: Main Street
RIVER PARK WAS typical of small American towns of the era that came to a close at the end of World War II. The old, young, and everyone in between claimed its Main Street as their own; it accommodated and unified them all. Outdoors and in, third place association was frequent and diffuse along its short reach. The desire for a break in routine, to catch up on the gossip, or merely to have something to do was as easily satisfied as a stroll uptown. The population of River Park was 720 in 1940. The town is located in the upper Midwest, along a river that meanders through the rich agricultural area of southern Minnesota
The town was within the ranges of population size and physical space that many experts consider ideal.2 Among adults, everyone knew everyone else on sight, by voice, by reputation, and by the reputation of the individual’s family. The size of the community was compatible with the limits of human memory
Anyone could walk to any point within the town and cover a distance of no more than six or seven blocks
most of the commercial establishments on Main Street were contained within an expanse of less than three blocks. All but a few of the business establishments of the community were located in close proximity to one another along Main Street. There were forty of them, located about equally on the north and south sides of the street. Commercially, it was a one-street town, and a short one at that.
I remarked, initially, that third place association was diffuse along the course of River Park’s Main Street. By that I mean that it was not confined, as tends to be the case in large urban areas, to a particular bar and grill, coffee shop, or the like. In River Park informal socializing spilled out into the street and into places of commerce that would not tolerate it in large cities. It is for this reason that Main Street was almost as much a third place as any of the sites along it.
In River Park, people walked slowly and with open and expectant faces. They were amenable to stopping and exchanging greetings, and they expected to do so.
The diffuse character of third place association was also evidenced by its intrusion into business establishments neither built nor intended for that purpose. Loafing and “shooting the breeze” were not confined to the taverns, cafes, and soda fountains
The accommodating posture of the River Park merchants was not a matter of benevolence towards loafers and hangers-on. Unlike the big-city merchant, they had no real choice of clientele. Success in business meant catering to all those who entered their establishments. To offend a nonpaying customer or a miserly one was to risk losing his or her trade and that of the customer’s friends
Youngsters learned that they could not loiter in the cafés during mealtimes but were usually welcome to do so in the slow periods
twenty cents over the counter was better than none at all.
Most of all, though, the children liked being out of doors in the daylight hours along Main Street
Bertram’s Drug Store met all the criteria that Bechtel identifies as necessary for such places.
the core of this core setting was the soda fountain. It was unoccupied only rarely, and never after school let out. T. R. Young was right, I think, when he spoke of the soda fountain as a special place: “In small-town America, the ice cream parlor provided a place to be (or learn to be) a particular kind of social self
at one of those holiday gatherings of the clan, a relative was describing to me the problems with the teenagers in his community. The community in question had grown up around new mining technology and didn’t have any places for kids to hang out that older traditions supply elsewhere. The man complained that the youth of the community were a “bunch of ingrates.” They did not appreciate the special hangout that had recently been constructed for them. After listening to his lament, I asked him two questions: Was the place right smack in the center of town—right in the middle of things? And, “Do the adults go there, too?” The answer in both instances was no.
In 1973, U.S. News and World Report contended that the shopping mall is replacing Main Street as the core of community belonging in America.8 Elsewhere, Richard Francaviglia argued that the virtues of Main Street never really existed. To him, the shopping malls are as good as Main Street ever was; yea better, for they are attractive places whereas the small town was ugly and the people were petty.
Merely by eliminating the urban uglies, the interior of any mall is certain to seem pleasant. But, facades aside, the shopping mall is a sterile place when compared to prewar small towns and their main streets
Totally unlike Main Street, the shopping mall is populated by strangers.
CHAPTER 7: The English Pub
UNLIKE THE AMERICAN tavern or cocktail lounge, the English pub enjoys a good press, an aura of respectability, and a high degree of integration in the life of the citizenry. Three-fourths of the drinking done in England still takes place in public settings and, in the face of many forces that discourage its use, the pub hangs on.
The word pub is short for public house or an establishment licensed by proper authority for the purpose of serving the general public
The proliferation of pubs, averaging four per square mile, means that for virtually every Englishman (and recently for every Englishwoman) a pub exists close by. Because of their neighborhood proximity, pubs are also known as “locals
If the pub is superior to the drinking establishments in most other cultures (and who would argue it?), the reasons are fairly simple and have to do with scale and warmth. Most pubs are built to the human scale. They are intimate, even cozy settings, designed more for an immediate neighborhood than a horde of transients and sometime visitors
CHAPTER 8: The French Café
IN HIS SALUTE to London, Paul Cohen-Portheim lamented the lack of cafés of the continental type in that city
CHAPTER 9: The American Tavern*
A RECENT BUSINESS REPORT on bars and cocktail lounges begins with the warning that anyone going into the bar business these days will face numerous difficulties
The third place tavern is on the decline in American society.
During our colonial era, the tavern was the focal point of community
That magnet, however, has lost much of its attraction power. Few trends in American life are as pronounced as the rejection of the public drinking establishment
The tavern is a failing institution, perhaps even an endangered species. The number of licensed drinking establishments in the United States has declined about 40 percent since the end of World War II, and the trend continues. Some count the decline of the tavern as progress, a step in the right direction. Yet, Americans drink as much as when the taverns thrived
The talking/drinking synergism is unquestionably at the foundation of the third place tavern and beyond that, I suspect, it is the synergism that has sustained tavern life throughout history
The talking/drinking synergism is basic to the pub, tavern, taverna, bistro, saloon, estaminet, osteria— whatever it is called and wherever it is found. The art of drinking is not acquired with the purchase of Old Mr. Boston’s guide to mixing drinks. It is learned in the company of those who combine moderate intake with scintillating conversation, for just as conversation is enhanced by the temperate use of alcohol, the artful and witty game of conversation moderates consumption of liquor
When one uses the ear rather than the palate to judge a drinking place, taverns sort themselves into three types and the measure of friendship’s breadth underlies them all. I refer to them as deadly, B.Y.O.F., and third place taverns.
In the third place tavern there is a degree of unity among the patrons that far exceeds their mere sharing of the same room at the same time. The sense of oneness manifests itself in a variety of observable ways. One sees it in the manner with which patrons enter and ultimately take their positions in the barroom
What one usually hears in the third place tavern is a hybrid between casual chatter and a public address. The patrons have a habit of speaking more loudly than is necessary for them to be heard within their immediate circles
The single essential element of a third place tavern from which all other characteristics derive is a hard core of regular patrons
We have already taken note of the sharp decline in the proportion of drinks consumed in public settings. Closer examination of the nation’s drinking habits reveals, however, that not all types of drinking establishments are suffering the effects of that larger trend. A recent and lengthy analysis of the bar business identifies four basic types of public drinking establishments existing in the nation’s cities today. These are the neighborhood bar, the pub or tavern that caters to the “singles” crowd (success here depends upon attracting a balanced number of males and females and providing an atmosphere conducive to their meeting and mingling), the nightclub or cabaret that provides live entertainment on a regular basis, and the disco, which has come to mean a place for dancing.12 Of the four, the neighborhood bar is experiencing the sharpest decline by far
CHAPTER 10: Classic Coffeehouses
the majority of the world’s third places have drawn their identity from the beverages they have served.
Social sacramental beverages or “lubricants” are almost always either stimulants containing caffeine (coffee, tea, and the various colas) or narcotics (beer, wine, or spirits), which contain alcohol.
CHAPTER 11: A Hostile Habitat
LIKE ALL LIVING things, the third place is vulnerable to its environment
The third place is seldom found in America’s newer urban environments. Whether one looks where urban renewal has changed the older city or in the wake of the new urban sprawl, the Great Good Gathering Places are not to be found
In the past, American gregariousness found its expression and established its numerous outposts without plan or even a conscious sense of purpose
The planners, builders, and owners have learned how to discourage the social use of their establishments
Where once there were places, we now find nonplaces
Corporations take immediate hold of new areas, from the development of the residential sites to the malls that serve them and the fast-food outlets that command all the choice locations. In areas developed long ago it takes them longer, but the corporations also infect that environment. The locally-owned lunch counter soon enough finds itself competing with a newly-built, fast-food nonplace
a place located in one of our northern cities that serves an almost ridiculously oversized roast beef sandwich.
It does well, however, and it does so not by intruding golden arches above the skyline but by word of mouth among regulars, who get a lot more there than a fine roast beef sandwich. Such places are rarely appreciated as much as they should be while they are still operating. When a place such as this burns down, however, it is much like the death of a beloved first citizen. The community no longer seems the same; much of its character and charm seems to have depended on that place. I made this point a couple of years ago in a lecture and not long afterward just such a place was temporarily closed due to a fire. A woman who had heard the talk made a point of contacting me about the incident. “God, it is like a death,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much we counted on going there and it being there.”
The modern urban environment accommodates people as players of unifunctional roles. It reduces people to clients, customers, workers, and commuters, allowing them little opportunity to be human beings.
In urban America, the demonstrated inability to create a suitable human habitat is brought to horrifying proportions by the speed with which an unsuitable environment is being manufactured. Even as our corporations now realize that their futures are jeopardized by imposing systems upon employees without their input, we continue to impose equally-flawed urban planning upon citizen-users as though their involvement in the process were not crucial to success.
The End of Free-Ranging? Third places thrive best in locales where community life is casual, where walking takes people to more destinations than does the automobile, and where the interesting diversity of the neighborhood reduces one’s reliance on television. In these habitats, the street is an extension of the home. Attachment to the area and the sense of place that it imparts expand with the individual’s walking familiarity with it. In such locales, parents and their children range freely. The streets are not only safe, they invite human connection.
As the architect and urban planner Dolores Hayden has put it, “The dream house replaced the ideal city as the spatial representation of American hopes for the good life.
Currently, Americans spend about 90 percent of their leisure time in their homes.20 Is the figure so high because home life is so attractive or is it because we have created a world beyond the home that no longer offers relaxed and inexpensive companionship with others, a commodity once as easily obtained as a stroll down the street?
The urban planners’ major contribution to the boredom and to the intolerance of our times is unifunctional space utilization
Automobiles did not cause the unifunctional design, but they made it possible
Nothing was harder hit by unifunctional planning than the typical third places of American society. The compartmentalized city is hostile to the third place for it denies the essential proximity between the establishment and its users
The unifunctional approach to space is invariably accompanied by a similar approach to time. There is work time and a workplace, a family time and a family place, shopping time and a shopping place, etc. Thus do the planners account for our lives. In countries where people enjoy their cities far more than we, there is also social time and community time
Few people have been in a position to observe and record the effects of the private exploitation of the public environment as was Jane Addams
Few people have been in a position to observe and record the effects of the private exploitation of the public environment as was Jane Addams. The great numbers of hapless young women she came to know had migrated to Chicago from the rural countryside, and Miss Addams was intimately familiar with the contrast between those two worlds.
Miss Addam’s complaint was twofold. Not only did city government refuse to provide space and facilities for the recreational needs of the citizenry, it also failed to exercise reasonable control over those who profited from the lack of wholesome public facilities
Through its long history, the same sun-belt city has failed to provide municipal swimming facilities for children even though the weather is oppressively hot five months of the year. The people in control have always been able to afford their own private swimming pools or transportation to the beaches
In 1967, demolition took place on the Opera House at 39th and Broadway in New York City. The structure was destroyed despite a glaring need to retain a facility of its kind in that part of the city. The Metropolitan Opera Association, however, did not want any competition and it had a compulsory demolition clause written into its sales agreement. As Nathan Silver observed, “The Met, usually with capacity audiences, ‘couldn’t afford’ competition, and New York ‘couldn’t afford’ anything but free enterprise opera
It is interesting to speculate as to the long-term effects of the refusal of American city governments to recognize and adequately provide for the social and recreational needs of all the people. That failure may be a major reason why the American pot never melted all that well
Recent years have been “boom” ones in the manufacture and sale of home entertainment products, and the major reason suggested by the experts is the prohibitive cost of entertainment in the public domain. People like to go out, but the high and ever-rising cost of doing so discourages the habit.
The “hidden hand,” hardly even disguised anymore, never rests. It fidgets constantly in expectation of new prospects for commercial success. It is quick to meet each new form of human frustration and human longing with commercialized solutions.
CHAPTER 12: The Sexes and the Third Place
Sexual segregation accounts for the origins of the third place and remains the basis for much of the appeal and benefits this institution has to offer. During Europe’s Middle Ages, married women typically gathered at the washhouses; their husbands at the cabarets
“A third place! God! I don’t even have a second place!” Such is the reaction that some housewives have given to the topic at hand
Suzanne Gordon has looked deeply into the anatomy of loneliness and found it nowhere more prevalent than among suburban housewives
The Disappearance of Male Places
The men’s house had special meaning for the boys of the tribe.
CHAPTER 13: Shutting Out Youth
As if it had been yesterday, I could visualize the fall outings of the Booster’s Club or the Volunteer Fire Department. There were fifty-gallon cooking pots in which chicken and beef stewed in their juices. There was a long galvanized tank, the kind farmers use to water their livestock, filled with cracked ice and scores of long- necked bottles of beer, and among them, just for us kids, bottles of Orange Crush, cream soda, and root beer. Everyone was friendly and generous. One might never have guessed it, but many staid townspeople did know how to have fun after all. By nightfall they were attempting to balance beer bottles on their noses, hit a target with a thrown axe, or climb a ladder leaning against nothing but thin air. The kids went to sleep in Mom’s or Dad’s arms before being laid out on a car seat and covered with a blanket. Right up to the point where we conked out, we were in on it all. These glimpses of childhood happily integrated with adulthood belong to a time when adults did not feel that having a good time meant getting away from their children and when baby-sitting did not involve fifty- or sixty-pound “babies.” Subsequent generations of adults have put a good deal of distance between themselves and youth, and in a relatively short span of time.
Communities Without Youth
Residential areas have become the settings of isolated family life and when people find no reason to walk down the street from their homes, they begin to seek community and communion elsewhere. For many, the workplace has become the most available substitute
There is another kind of community with which people increasingly content themselves and about which many social scientists are openly enthusiastic. It is variously known as the “personal community,” the “liberated community,” or the “network.” It is not defined in terms of location but in terms of the accumulated associations of a single individual. One’s friends, acquaintances, and contacts, however scattered, constitute his or her network
Two forms of community have emerged following the sterilization of the residential neighborhood, the workplace and the network. Both are hostile to children and have no place for them. How viable, in the long run, is a society that cannot unite the generations in an integrated community?
“No place to go, nothing to do”
Bill Levitt’s remarkable project offers a clear example of the manner in which youth are shut out of participation in the modern community. Thanks to the painstaking observations of Herbert Gans, Levittown’s story is, quite literally, an open book
Two of every three sixth-graders also liked the area, but the overwhelming majority of teenagers felt that Levittown was “Endsville.”
In the early sixties, the place was converted to a youth center available to all and open morning through evening
Boys and girls complained about the lack of neighborhood stores, and when they congregated on street corners despite the fact that there were no stores there, they tended to get into trouble. A group of teenagers would soon be making enough noise to prompt calls to the police
After its conversion to general use the center became the rendezvous point for the teenagers of the community
Beware the Schedulers
In a small seacoast town in Florida, a house for scouting was founded in the mid- 1950s
It has been observed that the American middle class will make no great contributions in music, the arts, or in letters; that their sole talent is for organization. It may now be seen that one of the most profound and sweeping changes in the lives of the nation’s children stems from the adult intrusion of this dubious talent into the whole range of youthful activity. The organizers and schedule-setters are attacking the world of children with an aggressiveness and scope that threatens to destroy childhood altogether
It has been observed that the American middle class will make no great contributions in music, the arts, or in letters; that their sole talent is for organization. It may now be seen that one of the most profound and sweeping changes in the lives of the nation’s children stems from the adult intrusion of this dubious talent into the whole range of youthful activity
During the seventies, the building’s facilities were gradually closed to general and unstructured use. Instead, classes were being offered to ladies willing to pay to exercise in the company of others or to children whose mothers had hopes that they might excel in dance or make it to the Olympics. The place came to resemble the typical community center, misnamed in today’s society and off limits to youngsters with time on their hands and no appealing place to spend it.
Ethnic Ties Dissolved
In recent years the psychiatric profession has detected a substantial jump in the incidence of depression among children, an intriguing finding in that children have always seemed immune from depression
to find those disappearing locales in which people of all ages are still having fun together, one must visit some of the ethnic enclaves where generational ties are maintained against that powerful dissolving agent known as the American way of life
Not long after the age of requirement was sharply lowered, youth bars (places catering especially to youthful drinkers) became the vogue and the general character of these places may be expected to survive even though the law was reversed.
The Youth Bar
drinking ages), 36 percent of the places were dominated by youthful drinkers and two-thirds of all the youthful drinkers observed were in bars where all the customers were young
Especially for Children
Adults have always maintained much of their control over youth by confining them spatially. Until urbanization and industrialization altered the structure of society, family and community provided the space, monitored the space, and shared the space in which youngsters grew up. The necessary monitoring of youth was accomplished so casually and informally that it was seldom a conscious matter. With urbanization and industrialization, however, new conditions of work demanded that adults be freed of their offspring in order to maximize productivity during the long hours of the workday. Children had to be gotten out of the way.
The belief that schools are designed primarily to serve youth is not the only myth surrounding the containment of the young. Other places are created especially for children, though the primary motivation is to remove them from areas where adults don’t want to have them around. Most of these continue to be created despite colossal rates of failure and despite the fact that their designated users (children) do not want them. Examples abound in all Western industrial cities.
The author of a book-length report on growing up in an Australian city found that the adolescents of Sydney spent the great bulk of their leisure time in places adults also frequented.10 Particular attention was focused upon “places specially set up for adolescents,” and it was found that youth generally shunned them.
CHAPTER 14: Toward Better Times . . . and Places
WORLD WAR II marks the historical juncture after which informal public life began to decline in the United States
Some of the best urban habitats to be found anywhere in the United States are those preserved or restored through grass-roots efforts in reaction against the brutality and banality of urban-renewal programs
“Even if I had a third place, I wouldn’t have the time to enjoy it.” This is a common response among those who appreciate the merits of third place involvement but who are inclined to relegate these pleasant little institutions of social relaxation to a simpler past and its slower pace of life. The thought of devoting additional time and effort to the establishment of a third place, or a community life more generally, can be a discouraging one. Time and energy are commodities that too many of us have too little of to spare.
Eventually Americans will learn that the fast and hectic pace of urban life is not due to modernity but to bad urban planning
One of the most laughably erroneous characterizations of contemporary American society is that it is a “convenience culture.”
For most people, work is no longer drudgery. Work has a coherence and a simplicity about it and, at work, what one needs on a regular basis is close at hand. If those same qualities were obtained in the residential areas, if living were as important as production, life would be far simpler and fuller for almost everyone.
Having the necessities within easy walking distance is the defining characteristic, the common denominator, of vital neighborhoods
Modern neighborhoods are so poorly connected to essential facilities that children can no longer be sent on useful errands.