Great Good Place

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)

People often don't have access to places in their neighborhoods that are outside their home or workplace. People need places where they can feel at home and hang out for extended periods without the need to spend lots of money. Unfortunately there is a scarcity of what Ray Oldenburg calls "great good places" that are convenient and welcoming. In many regions of the world people have forgotten how to "hang out" with friends, a lost art that refreshes the spirit and — sometimes — leads to social action as well.


This pattern is applicable to any place where people live. Whether a community is rich or poor, it needs "third places" where people comfortably congregate.


"The right of free assembly is the most natural privilege of man." Alexis de Tocqueville (1963)

This pattern makes the case that probably shouldn't even need to be made; that people need the physical presence of others and that virtual spaces however important and vibrant they can be, have not made physical meeting places obsolete.

Although situations are different in different locations, the fact remains that communities need what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls a "great good place" or "third" place which is a physical location, more-or-less public place, where people can "hang out" and talk about whatever they need to talk about. Unfortunately these locations are threatened in many places. Many factors can contribute to the decline in great good places. Some neighborhoods may be dangerour or have a mistrusting atmosphere. Some may be too economically disadvantaged to be able to afford a safe place with a roof overhead. Moreover in the era of television and the car, the art of spending time around people that might be strangers may be dying. Other locations may have such high rents that it becomes necessary to cycle customers quickly to increase the "efficiency" of the cafe.

Oldenburg discusses many instances of the role of the "great good place" in history. These include German beer gardens in the US in the early 1990s, Viennese coffee shopts, French cafe society and the like. It also discusses the fascinating role of taverns etc. in the development of the journalism, the media, business practices, and social change — including the American revolution against the British. Oldenburg quotes Sam Warner (1968) who states that the informal tavern groups "provided the underlying fabric of the town, and when the Revolution began made it possible to gather militia companies quickly, to form effective committees of correspondence and of inspection, and to organize and to manage mass town meetings."

Bradie Derrenger makes the important point that the "great good place" might not always be a traditional coffee or donut shop. From the seat that he takes every day while waiting for the ferry that takes him to work he can engage with people he sees every day and with those who may be crossing Puget Sound for the first time. And if and when other people started congregating there it might just happen that others would also do so.

Interestingly it may be the case that communities with more "third places" are more politically and economically active. Whether this is always the case, a "third place" often contributes to a community's "social capital" which, as Robert Putnam has shown generally provides a wide range of benefits, including economic.


Communities need to ensure that "third places," which are neither the home nor the workplace exist where anybody in the community is free to go and stay for as long as they want. These places can be cafes, plazas, community centers or simply places with chairs or benches. These locations can be privately owned but their de facto policies must support the needs of the community for them to serve as genuine third places.

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