December 5, 2011

Invitation: The Role of the Third Place

The 78th Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition is today and the occasion warrants reflection on the impact the Noble Experiment has had on the Beer Culture in the US. Unfortunately that reflective discussion won't be happening here, (time is the tyrant these days). I can offer you some interesting reading via Jeff Alworth over at Beervana , who earlier this month compared and contrasted the pub/bar/tavern/cafe experiences in Britain, the US, and Belgium. Play close note to how the differences in each culture's experience with alcohol subtle play on language and the social contracts inherent in navigating the simple act of grabbing a beer and perhaps a bite to eat.

Our post-Prohibition and Puritanical upbringing remarkably causes the obfuscation of the name of the place where we do our beer drinking, Alworth argues:
I suspect our system reflects America's conflicted relationship to booze. We've ended up with so many euphemisms because, as a culture, we've never been comfortable with alcohol. Someone's always trying to inhibit its consumption, and others are trying to consume. So we have a system of oblique signals that shield the offended from the activities of the offenders. There's an old tavern down in Westmoreland--or used to be, anyway--called the Semaphore. I've always thought it was a perfect tongue-in-cheek nod to the issue.
These types of social influences are at the heart of my fascination with beer culture. It is what separates beer drinking from beer living. It is the culture! I've tried to focus on what makes our Phoenix beer culture succeed and fail and have attempted to refine my answer after Andy Ingram's Beer Culture piece in the Arizona Republic. I've discussed beer blogging, touched on walkability (which merits a series of posts) and the impact of local urban thinkers. But there are many more topics to write about and many more conversations that you and I will have to make. Please read on because there is an opportunity this week towards that discourse.

In 2012, I'll complete a series on, "Who will Lead Us" in our journey toward a more robust beer culture. There will be pieces on Brewers, more bloggers, more urbanists and Publicans and other leaders that will shape our beer futures. Big picture things like this should not be daunting, to that end I'd like to invite you to an event that figure into the success of our local beer culture and the growth of Phoenix in general.

Levine Machine - Site of the TEDx salon.
On Wednesday, December 7th, downtown preservation advocate, Jim McPherson and CenPho supporter and social media wonk, Andrew Knochel are moderating a TEDx salon on Urban Placemaking: Design of Third Places. There are four notable local guests that will explore the role of Ray Oldenburg's Third Place and the design that makes these places successful as businesses and community social hubs. The location is an amazing space well worth the price of admission.

If this all sounds like heady (or even stuffy) mumbo-jumbo, allow me to break it off into a few tangible bite-sizes pieces. Third places are where you and I like to drink beer and enjoy meals, but more importantly engage with others, speak freely about issues of the day with old friends and new acquaintances. They are our favorite places. We accept that these places don't always have the best food or beer or maybe even service (but they certainly can be best in all respects) but we keep coming back. We feel as though the building itself is a partner in our sense of social warmth. Though not defined by Oldenburg as such, it has a touch of the Gem├╝tlichkeit one finds at a German Biergarten.

Oldenburg, in his book The Great Good Place, notes that much of our time is spent at home (first), at work (second) where there is an isolated and rigid social structure. Oldenburg's third places are the coffee houses, pubs, cafes where people gather to engage with one another in an atmosphere of equal footing. Circling back to Alworth's piece, third places in England are the (rapidly declining) pubs which were historically the extension of one's living room. In Belgium, they are the cafes and in the US... well we have somewhat of a fractured experience with that. There is a chasm a mile wide when it comes to a generic US bar/restaurant and perhaps our finest beer examples of third places in metro Phoenix. Let's find out why and what can be done.

Join me Wednesday so we can speak the same language and finish off with a downtown beer.





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