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Social spaces in the current economy

December 10, 2008

orange_coffee_cupI’ve been reading and thinking a lot about “civic culture” lately and how this relates to Social Media. I’m a big fan of Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” and “Better Together“.

Then tonight I heard Gregory Rodriguez on NPR’s Talk of the Nation discussing his recent OpEd in the LA Times. Of course the worsening economy is the hook but Rodriguez points out that “third places” (neither work or home) are important because “civic life isn’t about structure; we don’t have to play softball or volunteer for a cause to better engage with our world.”

It’s an interesting point and one I’d agree with based on my experience at my local coffee shop where I frequently go to write. Several other people are there to work like me but there are others like an elderly couple and mother and her kids that come there to hang out and be around other people. I’ve met some interesting folks there and, since I now live in Los Angeles, have even seen some celebrities drop by.

While I want to agree with Rodriguez, I also know that Americans, especially Angelinos, often live in segregated communities. I’ve just picked up a copy of “The Big Sort” by Bill Bishop whose premise is that “Americans have been sorting themselves over the past three decades into homogeneous communities — not at the regional level, or the red-state/blue-state level, but at the micro level of city and neighborhood.”  Admittedly I need to read more than just the blurb on the jacket cover, but it does make me wonder what these “third places” look like when people live in mostly with other people like themselves.

As Rodriguez asserts that, istead of “wanting want people to come together with some sort of common purpose or agenda”, the academics and the foundations should what Americans need is “more nonrational, nonpurposeful interaction with people with whom they have no natural common cause.” My question is: how?

I’ll keep you posted as I keep thinking this through.

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