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The Commonspace

May 2004 / from the editor :: email this story to a friend

St. Louis' Public Living Room
By Brian H. Marston

Somewhere along the line, "public" came to mean "inferior" in the United States. Public restrooms are kind of icky. Most people in this country regard public transportation as an unpleasant alternative to private cars (the bigger, the better). Public schools are written off by parents who assume that they have to send their kids to private schools to get a good education.

Many Americans have given up their role as citizens who participate in the public life of their community to become consumers who have no obligation to anything higher than their own needs and desires. It's not just that they're unconcerned about their neighbors; they're actually kind of afraid of them. This emotional alienation is mirrored in the physical isolation of ever-sprawling metro areas like St. Louis.

In the midst of this antipathy toward all things public, we decided to open St. Louis' public living room. When I told my mother-in-law about our plans, she said, "Hanging out with strangers? That's going to scare the hell out of people." Our goal, aside from a little masochism, is to help people here understand what seemingly every other culture already knows: human beings are social animals. It's a lesson that even introverts like me can learn to appreciate.

We purposefully set out to create an informal hangout where unplanned interactions can take place. These chance connections between people who otherwise would never meet help establish a dense social network and are the basis for building a stronger community.

With The Commonspace, we hope to put the public realm back at the center of community and individual life. Other places have plazas, town squares and agoras. We have 615 North Grand.

We'd like to offer an alternative to people who wake up, go to work, drive home in their single-passenger cars, disappear into their garages and don't emerge until the next day when they do it all over again. Get off your couch and come spend some time on one of ours. Who knows — you just might find your home away from home.

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