In the 1980s sociologists introduced the term "third place," neither home nor work, to encompass the bars, restaurants, and other public spaces that allow us to build relationships. Today, with global economic woes besetting even the iconic French cafe culture, our "public living rooms" are shuttering at the moment we need them most, writes LA Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez.
"We fetishize family to the detriment of our collective civic life," writes Rodriguez, closing down opportunities for risk and surprise. While the family and the workplace codify our social roles, the third space allows us to flout them—to meet new people and become new people in turn. Which is why the decline in unstructured public life is so scary: "If the economy does tank totally, all we've really got is each other, and I fear we don't even have that anymore."