Good bars create a sustainable community

For more years than I’ll admit, I’ve been a devoted viewer of the British soap Coronation Street. My partner grimaces whenever he hears the opening music. “How can you watch that? All they do is yell.”

“They do more than yell,” I say. “They work things out.” That’s no small accomplishment, considering their lives are squeezed into one compact neighbourhood. Much of the action converges in the Rovers Return, a neighbourhood pub where endless pints are pulled, hot pot pies are served and dramas unfold.

When I watch the actors meeting over a drink, I’m envious. I want a watering hole on my own corner where I can join my friends in a familiar place, where the closing bell rings and everyone walks (possibly stumbles) to their nearby homes.

I’m not the only one. Michael Hickey, a community development consultant, supports these community hangouts. In his article “In Praise of (Loud, Stinky) Bars” Hickey writes: “The vaunted ‘third space’ isn’t home and isn’t work – it’s more like the living room of society at large. It’s a place where you are neither family nor co-worker, and yet where the values, interests, gossip, complaints and inspirations of these two other spheres intersect. It’s a place at least one step removed from the structures of work and home, more random, and yet familiar enough to breed a sense of identity and connection. It’s a place of both possibility and comfort, where the unexpected and the mundane transcend and mingle. And nine times out of ten, it’s a bar.”

What does this have to do with sustainability? asks Kaid Benfield in Atlantic Cities Place Matters. “The more complete our neighbourhoods, the less we have to travel to seek out goods, services and amenities,” he says. “The less we have to travel, the more we can reduce emissions. People enjoy hanging out in bars and, especially if they are within walking distance of homes, we can also reduce the very serious risks that can accompany drinking and driving.”

Benfield adds that in the download age, “which has already killed music stores, weakened movie theatres, put print newspapers on life support and finished off all but a few bookstores,” the places that remain and offer a shared community commons are becoming more important. “Bars qualify: you can’t download a pint of Guinness.”

I agree with Benfield. Sure, I can keep in touch with others through Skype, through my Smartphone, even my CB radio when I’m rolling down the highway. But at the end of the day I’d prefer to live near a place where everybody knows my name. And my face.



Photo credits
Pub sign: Clarita Natoli at
Pub interior: Hamstersphere at
Pub exterior: Raymond Greenside at

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