It recently dawned on me that all of the really special communities I have enjoyed had an abundance of gathering places where people could mingle with like-minded others on a frequent basis and converse freely.
A neighborhood or a development without a real gathering place never develops a sense of community, even if it contains thousands of people. A community with many gathering places promotes the development of new business and social contacts on a constant basis. This will do amazing things for the economic health of the community.
There are certain key elements that make up a superlative gathering place:
The place is run by someone who is able to create an atmosphere that immediately makes you feel welcome and hires employees who can do the same.
You are able to talk with other people without having to shout to overcome the ambient noise level
A high percentage of the people frequenting the place know each other by sight or are willing to engage strangers in conversation.
Most important of all, the place must enable you to make new friends.
All kinds of places become gathering places when these conditions are met. I have been in coffee shops, garages, bars, and restaurants which performed the vital function of giving people a place to meet and to catch up with the latest local happenings.
I don’t think these places just happen. I think they are the result when someone decides to create a sense of community and this is given a higher priority than simply making money.
I don’t think there is any conflict between making money and creating a community, it’s just that keeping the priorities straight insures that the gathering place will succeed and will prosper.
The underlying principle is quite simple: encouraging rational communication promotes understanding and increases the affinity of the group involved. As the group finds common interests through improved communication, the members develop business relationships and act upon them. If the gathering place delivers what is needed by the community, it will attract supporters who will add to the value of the place by encouraging interactions and by recruiting new members.
Gathering places have been doing this for as long as civilization has existed, but the vital importance of these places may only be known to architects and city planners. In this Internet age, there is no reason why everyone can’t be involved in creating gathering places or supporting those who are doing it already.
In the next post in this series, I will discuss the salient features of two Floyd gathering places and their critical importance to this growing community of artists and business people.
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