• The long, slow death of our watering holes

    The great accomplishment of Ray Oldenburg's book about essential gathering spots, The Great Good Place, is that he never mentions Cheers, the 80s sitcom about the bar "where everybody knows your name."

    This is significant because Oldenburg essentially wrote an entire book praising the existence of "a third place" — not home, not work, but somewhere where we can go to relax and exchange in dialog with other people. He was essentially describing Cheers, at the height of its popularity.

    The third place is a generic designation for a great variety of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of work and home.

    Oldenburg was a sociologist (now Professor Emeritus) at the University of Western Florida. He defines a third place as a location possessing the following characteristics:

    1. It's neutral ground, meaning it doesn't belong to any of the people who congregate there.

    2. It's a "leveler," meaning it's inclusive and doesn't differentiate based on social status.

    3. It exists for conversation.

    4. It's accessible and accommodating.

    5. It has a group of "regulars" that meet there.

    6. It keeps a relatively low profile.

    7. It has a playful mood.

    8. It serves as a home away from home.

    What's remarkable is that we can all instantly relate to these places. Admit it—at least one jumped into your head. Is it because we all have one? No, Oldenburg pointed out, in 1987, that these places were already in decline across America.