Ray Oldenburg wrote The Great Good Place, a book detailing the dearth of and need for what he calls "Third Places". The first place is home (where you are most comfortable and spend the majority of your time), the second place is work (where you spend the next largest portion of your time), the third place is where you go when you aren't at home or work. Third places are almost non-existant in the suburbanized city. Zoning laws prevent any local communal gathering place. One must get in their car and travel to such a spot, and that very fact removes that spot from the community and prevents it from having 'regulars' who get to know one another.
The first charecteristic of a Third Place is that it is Neutral Ground. No one is in charge, no one is the host, no one is the guest. The most important aspect of neutral ground is that it affords friends a way to spend time together without becomming "uncomfortably tangled in one another's lives." Having a neutral ground allows friends to come together and leave each other with ease. You don't have to invite people over for dinner just to talk to them. Oldenburg says, "we need a good deal of immunity from those whose company we like best."
This makes a lot of sense to me. I was puzzled why my friendships seemed to dwindle after moving off of my college campus - now I know. On campus I could just see someone in the Student Center or the dorm loby and hanging out would ensue (I remember the nightly Simpsons viewing - always a different crew, always regulars). But moving off campus meant that friends now have to either come over (a commitment to being on my turf) or they have to invite me over (a commitment to be a host). The number of people who are willing to do that is much smaller than the number willing to engage in light conversation durring the comercials of a Simpsons episode or to play a game of pool while we wait for dinner.
Do you have a third place? Where? What's it like?
Do you want a third place? Why? Where would you go?