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The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community Paperback – August 18, 1999
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The Great Good Place has put into words and focus what I've been doing all my life, from the barbershop I remember as a child to the bookstore I now own. My goal at Horizon Books is to provide that third place in which people can "hang out." Ray Oldenburg has defined those good places while still recognizing the magical chemistry they require. The Great Good Place is a book to read, to recommend, and to quote. -- Victor W. Herman, owner of Horizon Books, with locations in Traverse City, Petoskey, and Cadillac, Michigan
A book that should be read by everyone in North America over the age of 16 -- The World of Beer
A day doesn't go by that I don't refer to Ray Oldenburg's The Great Good Place. At a time when all great, good independent bookstores everywhere are under siege, we're fortunate that Mr. Oldenburg has articulated our message so clearly. -- Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, Miami, Florida
Examines gathering places and reminds us how important they are. People need the 'third place' to nourish sociability. -- Parade
Oldenburg believes that the powerful need in humans to associate with one another will inevitably lead to the revival of places where, as the theme song to the TV show Cheers so aptly put it, 'everyone knows your name.' We'll drink to that. -- Booklist
Ray Oldenburg is inspirational. He is the first to recognize and articulate the importance of the greeting place (third place) for the well-being of the individual and society at large. -- Ron Sher, President, Terranomics Development and founder of Third Place Books, Seattle, Wash.
The great value of this book is that Mr. Oldenburg has given us an insightful and extremely useful new lens through which to look at a familiar problem. -- New York Times Book Review
This wonderful and utterly important book verifies our need for fun through conversation in "great good places." Oldenburg writes passionately of our country's current and urgent problems resulting from our ever-increasing social isolation and provides us with a very simple solution. America must read and react to this rational common-sense solution to salving our stressed lives. And our government needs to promote, permit, and zone responsible neighborhood hospitality, recognizing the value of "a vital informal life." -- Lynne Breaux, owner, Tunnicliff's Tavern, Washington, D.C.
Well-written, informative, and often entertaining. -- Newark Star-Ledger
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While I’m certainly not a conspiracy theorist over here, it doesn’t take a genius to discern that, for the most part, the United States has been taken over by a corporate oligarchy, and it is this oligarchy that has shaped our society into what it is (and isn’t) today. It is no accident that Americans are isolated from each other and that there are not many informal gathering places available to them. This corporate oligarchy does not want Americans interacting and communicating with each other; it simply wants them working and minding their own business. At night, this oligarchy wants Americans sitting by themselves on couches, with an open can of beer, watching programming which it gladly is willing to provide. If Americans start interacting with each other, they might get ideas, ideas about the destruction of their own civilization that is taking place right under their noses, ideas about a government that merely wears the trappings of democracy, but only represents corporate interests, not the interests of the people, and this is something that the oligarchy cannot have. This is what is behind the careful, deliberate planning, development, and cultivation of the isolated culture in which American citizens find themselves immersed. This is not something that happened overnight, and it certainly isn’t something that happened all by itself. It was deliberately planned. It is tragic that the overwhelming majority of American citizens cannot discern this and continue to allow themselves to play into the oligarchy’s hands.
The sad thing is that even when Americans do decide to hit a coffee shop, they simply sit by themselves at a table with a laptop computer in front of them, and there is very little socializing going on. None, to be exact. I see this all of the time. I believe that much of our technology is getting in the way of our interacting with each other. This technology follows us into the coffee shops, so what is gained? I see people staring into screens wherever I go out in public, and this includes restaurants.
Another thing which I believe is hindering stimulating interaction between American citizens is the fact that far too many Americans are not readers; they are watchers, i.e., television watchers. People who do not read good books are poor conversationalists. I have sat down with people who are television watchers, not readers, and trying to converse with such as these is absolutely agonizing. There is nothing to talk about except the latest television programs. But when I speak with other people who are readers, the conversation goes on for hours.
This is a wonderful book, which is why I gave it a 5-star rating. But until some of these other issues get resolved, just having places for people to gather informally isn’t going to solve the problem. You can have the place. You can have the people. But we need to make other changes in our society so that when those people are gathered together in those places, they are “all there,” body, mind, and soul.
Americans have changed. We are uncivil toward one another. We are rude, impolite, and inconsiderate. We are quick to judge, label, misunderstand, or take offense. We are politically correct. In this new American society which has been created, everything you say can and will be used against you. How can a person relax and be himself when there is so much pressure placed upon him not to say or do anything that will be misconstrued, misunderstood, or cause offense?
I don’t enjoy being around people anymore because of the torture and agony it causes me. Long after an event is over, I will still be agonizing, saying to myself, “Was I wrong to say this? I wonder what So and So thinks of me? Did I give such and such an impression?” I never used to be paranoid. I used to be a popular, people-loving, outgoing, vivacious person who never stayed at home. It is the changes in our society which have done this to me. I find that in American society, I no longer feel comfortable in my own skin because the people whom I encounter are also uncomfortable in their own skins. Americans are always afraid. Nobody knows who they are or, if they do, they’re afraid to be that person. Everyone wants to conform. Everyone wants to fit in. If you dare to think independently and you refuse to embrace the herd mentality that is so prevalent in American society, you’re out. We no longer have healthy dialogues and interactions with one another. If you disagree with someone, or if someone disagrees with you, you get verbally attacked, judged, or written off. In the worst cases, you just might get shot. Whatever happened to the give and take of conversation? This is why I simply prefer to just stay home with a book. It’s a lot safer, and a whole lot more peaceful that way.
So, to me, not having informal public places in which to gather is only PART of the problem. Even if those places were available, because of the changes which have taken place in the way Americans treat each other, I would still opt to stay home with my book.
Oldenburg's The Great Good Place describes sociologically the role and importance of Third places - (places other than home or work) (p. xvii). Important qualities of third places:
1) They are inclusive and local
2) They create an environment in which everybody knows just about everybody
3) They serve as ports of entry for visitors
4) They offer a 'neutral ground' space for conversation, idea sharing, and the transmittal of social norms
5) Create places for fun and enjoyment
6) Create a sense of belonging and connectedness
This is a must read for anyone interested in belonging, community, and placemaking. I would also recommend this book for those interested in starting a restaurant or coffee shop, a gathering place, a community center, or church. Additional reading that might be helpful:
Block, P. (2008). Community: The structure of belonging. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
McKnight, J., & Block, P. The abundant community: Awakening the power of families and neighborhoods (1st ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.