Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Third Place and Victor Gruen

You might not know Victor Gruen.  But, if you've ever bought something that wasn't on your list, you've been a victim to the Gruen Effect.  Get distracted and buy something you don't need?  That's him.  It's what made him famous.  He knew how to draw people into stores and buy more-more-more.  
He is a complicated man, who has caught my attention for another reason.  Many people in church-plant, outreach, and mission organizations have, in the last few years, been using his term of  "The Third Place".  

You have your home.  You have your work.  And then you have the third place where you hang out as part of your community.  In European cities, because very few people have cars, the third place is the neighborhood coffee shop, the bar, the bread store... it is the street.

As more and more people purchased cars in the mid-century America, he noticed that this third place was evaporating.  People spread out to the suburbs and were becoming more isolated.  He feared what would happen without community relationships.

How could he bring that European third place to Americans who were physically growing further and further apart?  He needed to create a city center, or as he called it, a "shopping town".  It would have restaurants and a park-like feeling. People could sit out in the open to meet and enjoy each other. There would be convenient shops and services. It would be a place to go where the people could rekindle community.  It would be air conditioned for the people in the south, and heated for the people in the north.  Comfortable year round.

Victor Gruen built the first mall.
Remko Tanis

And another one.  And another.

And then he watched how these malls killed the downtowns.  He watched how they did not encourage community but instead grew consumerism.

And he turned his back on the creature he created.

He spent the rest of his life trying to undo it... trying to create other spaces that would bring back the third place community.

You see his ideas all over.  City centers with no cars?  Gruen again.  The new trend of live-work-play communities?  That's Gruen, too.

What Gruen is missing - is that your space can encourage people to shop.  But, to really build community, you have to have love.  You have to have people serving each other.  Sharing in the good things and diving into the hard things together.  You have to have time.

The Italian enoteca is only a great third place because those same men have been meeting there every day for a gazillion years.  They have buried their fathers together and they share the same grand kids.

We, with our Let's Create Community Now mentality, want it to be instant.  We want to meet at the food court and build a life long friendship in three minutes.

Give it time.  Serve.  Love.  Talk.  Give and take.  Don't try to create a false sense of community.  Wait for the real one to show up.



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