Friday, March 1, 2013

Can't beat third place

photo of entrance to Nina's Coffee Cafe at Selby and Western, St. Paul
© harrington
Have you ever heard of a third place? I bet you have. I bet you've even been to one. Have you hear of Ray Oldenburg? Ray's an urban sociologist who wrote a book called The Great Good Place, about third places. First Place is Home; Second Place is Work; Third Place is a place like Nina's Coffee Cafè. Ray's premise is that "bars, coffee shops, general stores, and other 'third places'... are central to local democracy and community vitality." We seem to have reached a point where the only democracy left in this country is local, and there's not enough of that. Community vitality is to be nurtured, cherished, supported, endorsed and fostered. It contributes to local economies, Community Supported Agriculture, food coops, housing cooperatives, energy cooperatives (hopefully leading to a decentralized energy generation system less and less dependent on fossil fuel generators), arts organizations, poetry in the sidewalk and Writers Rising Up. Nina's has a frequently rotating display of art by local artists. "Overflow" tables are shared with Subtext, the downstairs bookstore successor to Common Good Books (prop. G.Keillor) which moved to a higher traffic location near Macalester College. At Nina's, yellow brick walls plus a cup of cappuccino or a latte become a yellow brick road to an urban Oz, a magical land of intelligent conversation, hip, funky table mates, and a constant buzz of humans interacting, except for the poet at the corner table, left alone while she fine tunes her troublesome stanza, and the essayist at the "loft" table at the top of the stairs, staring out the distant plate glass window, trying to see the logical progression in his piece about the futility of mining fracking sand and shipping Minnesota by the trainload to Pennsylvania. Nina's keeps a running list asking those who have written all or parts of a book while there to list their name and the book's title. Weekend evenings often offer local music. Doesn't some of this sound like a better way to spend an evening in My Minnesota than cooped up in the living room, watching the latest and greatest idoling survivor make it to the next level. Bowling alone and drinking alone are each worse than living alone. Place's like Nina's offer an antidote to all three. Maybe that's another reason they're know as third places. Next time you're at your favorite third place, be sure to stop by and visit My Minnesota.