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For a book about cafes, bars, and hangouts it wasn’t as rollicking a read as I imagined it might be, none-the-less Oldenburg’s case for “the informal public life and the Great Good Places essential to it” sheds light on some fundamental elements of culture and society that too often we overlook. He points out that,
Great Civilizations, like great cities, share a common feature. Evolving within them and crucial to their growth and refinement are distinctive informal public gathering places. These become as much a part of the urban landscape as of the citizen’s daily life and, invariably, they come to dominate the image of the city. Thus, its profusion of sidewalk cafes seems to be Paris, just as the forum dominates one’s mental picture of classic Rome. The soul of London resides in her many pubs; that of Florence in its teeming piazzas. Vienna’s presence is seen and felt most within those eternal coffeehouses encircled within her Ringstrasse. The grocery store-become-pub at which the Irish family does its entertaining, the bier garten that is father to more formal German organizations, and the Japanese teahouse whose ceremonies are the model for an entire way of life, all represent fundamental institutions of mediation between the individual and the larger society.