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A Pressing Social Need
Declining Civic Health Threatens Our Way of Life
Trust, understanding, and reciprocity are the foundations of healthy communities. They are just a few of the contributing elements of civic health and what sociologists now refer to as “social capital.” Research shows that greater levels of social capital are correlated with economic strength, and lower levels with stagnation and decline. Sociological work over the past 200 years indicates that a wealth of social capital fueled the American economic and cultural rise. However, that tradition of civic vibrancy is threatened. A 2006 index shows a 15% decrease in American social capital over the preceding 25 years. This means that trust, understanding and reciprocity are rapidly diminishing from American communal life.
Vibrant Third Places Are Scarce
According to Ray Oldenburg, author of The Great Good Place, “third places” (special places you gravitate towards other than home, the first place, or work, the second place) are critical to fostering social capital. It is no surprise then that third places (community centers, barber shops, etc.) have virtually disappeared from the American landscape in the periods that also demonstrated measured decline.
An Even Deeper Gap in Third Place Based Approaches to Change
There are organizations consciously working to increase civic engagement and the quality of public discourse, and others working to create vibrant public spaces for the same end. There are also some local businesses that serve as accidental “third places”. However, few (if any) ventures have been designed from the ground up to leverage the power of third places to develop social capital. This is where we see a gap in the field addressing the problem and we aim to fill it.