Coffee or Cocktail? For African-American Neighborhoods, is the coffee shop the desired ‘third place’? On a lazy Saturday afternoon I found myself channel surfing, landing on the popular T.V. show Friends. Taking a much-needed break from reality T.V., I was again entertained by the sitcom; an actual script with real characters and timed jokes. As I watched I thought about the set of Friends – set in New York City, the characters' local coffee shop was just as much a character as the people themselves. The coffee shop Central Perk was the characters' Third Place. The Third Place in the planning world is that place where people gather in addition to their first and second places – home and work. This often translates to your favorite coffee shop, book store, or lounge.
As I watched the cast of Friends split their time between their New York apartments and the fictional coffee shop Central Perk, I thought about other ensemble cast shows of the era and remembered that they all had their own third place that played its own ‘part’ in the show. However those places where distinctly different between all white or all black casts...hmmm....
Who can forget the coffee shop (and Jennifer Aniston haircut) that started it all!
The cast of Seinfeld often gathered in the fictional Tom’s Diner, squeezing into the same booth show after show.
SEX IN THE CITY
Who can forget the diner where relationship war stories were shared. Enough said.
Café Nervosa was the backdrop for the quirky psychologist, his brother, and friends.
For shows with African-American casts, the third place was a bit different. It wasn't the traditional coffee shop or diner, it was often the after hours spot. (And just a note, photos of these places were more difficult to find, hints that they were less of a 'character' on the show.)
Martin, his crew, and his alter egos, often spent time at the fictional Nipsy’s Bar after work.
Throughout the seasons, Joan and her Girlfriends often relaxed over wine and good laughs at cool night spots.
NEW YORK UNDERCOVER
And who can forget the dope musical performances at the end the New York Undercover episodes. Well the name of the fictional bar was Natalie’s and it was owned by a character played by Gladys Knight. This portion of the show was so popular that a soundtrack was released during the show's earlier seasons.
So, Coffee or Cocktails?
I had the opportunity to sit in on a focus group in a historically African-American part of Nashville, TN to discuss development opportunities. When pressed for what type of amenities they would like to see in the area, all agreed that a sit down restaurant to relax in the evening with family and friends was the way to go. So that got me thinking…what is the third place in African-American neighborhoods? Is it always the revitalization darling the coffee shop, or something else? If we can answer that question, perhaps we can find a revitalization solution that works for African-American, or other minority, consumer markets.
Culturally Relevant Places
This brings me to the question of, what types of amenities could enhance a sense of place in minority neighborhoods? Google "Culturally Relevant Place Making" and you won't find much. It's not a buzz-phrase in planning circles as of yet, but it ought to be. Cultural Place Making is identifying what creates a sense of belonging for a particular demographic. Identifying what is culturally relevant in terms of the urban environment, could ignite a stronger connection to one's community. Organizations like the Latino Urban Forum are bringing attention to this concept by engaging minorities in the planning process to help them identify what ignites that sense of belonging.
If you had a preference of the 'Third Place' what would you choose - coffee or cocktails?
What ignites your sense of belonging in your community?