Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Missing Agora

I was having coffee (okay, iced tea, but same concept) with a friend today. We finished the TESOL course together and have actually kept in touch a little bit.

My friend has done some traveling and spent a few years in the Peace Corps in Morocco. She remarked that she misses a community element, living in our town. It's funny, because to me it feels a lot friendlier than St.Petersburg or something other big city. There are regular "characters" downtown; people just strolling around. You can always expect to bump into someone you know.

Yet, she's right; what's missing is the town square, a common area where anyone can drop in and do business or just hang out. Most of the stores in our are fun to browse, but you definitely can't "loiter" there. The coffee shops are nice too, but still meant for solitude or quiet conversations with friends. You wouldn't wander in and strike up a conversation with just anyone. We have some parks, but not much goes on there, and our climate is not the best for outside lingering during most of the year.

So where can you go to do that, in this day and age? Do we have to create a space for it, or do we need to simply take the spaces we already inhabit and approach them in a new way?


  1. You know Liz, you can delete this post if you wish, but I think you have started posting your posts for the sake of posting something... anything. Do you really care of what is going on in your town's main square? I do not think so. You guys are an interesting breed of dreamers that I can't figure out... Are you guys hippies? Or maybe ridden with ADD's and some other physical dysfunctions? I am just curious. I think you need to get a glimpse of a real life, outside of your comfort zone (and by that I do not mean traveling to St. Pete, Russia, but rather living a normal, everyday life). But I think some of you can't and that's why you invent a very strange world of your own.

    Sorry, but I am trying to follow your posts, but you seem to get me puzzled more and more with every new post.

  2. Liz,

    Down in Mexico, many of the towns have a town square, and that's where the homeless hang out. Besides, was a town square ever really a tradition in the US? My point is, many people might object to spending taxpayer money to begin a tradition they do not now have in order to create something that will likely generate problems, up to and including prostitution and drug sales.

    Semi-public spaces, like shopping malls, do seem to fill the need, where they exist. The mall common areas are pretty much open to anyone, though people can be asked to leave.

  3. Valeri - you crack me up! Liz is talking about intimacy and community! Aren't those things important to you at all? Don't you think it might be interesting to consider how we can make them more available? Don't we all need places to feel comfortable and connect? I loved this post. In fact, Liz's ability to take an ordinary situation and muse about what it means in a larger way really appeals to me. I think we DO need to think about life, even if we may seem to be wandering around like dazed hippies as we do it! (I might appear like this myself; I admit it.)

  4. Reading Mark's comment, I'll say that I noticed shopping malls DO seem to fill that need for teenagers. My kids would want to go to the mall (didn't let them until they were driving and could go on their own) and not "shop" so much as "mingle". It reminded me of Jane Austen's characters at the bathes. I don't think that the mall works in that way for older people, though....or for a multi-age group.

    I do think there ARE some towns in the midwest and west where there are town squares that DO have a bit of that flavor. In small towns you don't have the same "riff-raff" problem that you contemplate.

  5. Annie, I completely agree with you! I love this post Liz. Now that I've moved back to Massachusetts I miss the small town feel of Jackson, WY. I grew up here, but living only a few towns away from where I grew up, I still feel like I'm missing that sense of community. I think some of that is filled by church, but not all. Jackson has a town square in the center of town and while it is rather touristy now, it still functions as a sort of community center and it was rare to walk across it and not see someone I knew. Maybe it was also that Jackson was a fairly isolated place, so that feeling of community was reinforced, for good or bad: you couldn't really get away from people. ;) Anyway, I enjoyed this post and the sorts of things it made me think about. Annie, I loved your relating it to Austen!

  6. I don't know if I was thinking about city-planning so much as lifestyle. It's true, I can't think of many "town square" situations in the U.S., but surely there must have been more opportunities for public interaction at some point. Or what happened to just being "neighborly"?

    There are malls, and also bars. I don't frequent either. There are also playgrounds, for those with kids. And public transportation provides many opportunities for interaction, intentional or not.

    I don't expect a paradigm shift anytime soon, so I guess it's more about being intentional and seeking people out.

  7. Annie, I do not like hippies. They wasted their own lives and their children have become liberal democrats. What a waste. We, as Christians, are called to live a life that is common and down to earth. Look, Jesus, who is God, became flesh to show the world a way to salvation. If he did so we, as Christian, are not supposed to imitate the world. The Screwtape Letters come to mind. Did you guys read it? And if you did, how come you are still missing the point? The devil will deceive us if each one of us do not stick to the teaching of "the Enemy". And what is his teaching? This life is trash. The town squares concern you? Or maybe the economy? Or maybe that tea was not all that hot/cold as you expected it to be? Those cubes of ice were WAAAAAAY too big. That sandwich at a McDonalds tasted great, but not as you expected. Or maybe your neighbor is a jerk, and when you say it to yourself every morning, your own life seems ever so better!

    Laying down one's life is laying down one's life. And it doesn't have to be going to Mexico or Venezuela. It has to be in your own home. If you can't just stay where you are and do not move. Your ADD will soon go away.

  8. I see your point about complaining, and I agree about laying down one's life. But there is a huge difference between being bothered by trends in society and not liking the taste of a sandwich. And at times it is quite appropriate to discuss such problems with other believers. That is what the Body of Christ is for.


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