The death toll is mounting, and I’m not talking about the roughly 220,000 Americans who died from (or with) Covid-19. Third places are dying every day in every town, and this should not be ignored or marginalized.
“Third place” is a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to describe places that are not a person’s home (first place) or work (second place). Because humans are social creatures, sociologists have long argued that places like bookstores, coffee shops, gyms, pubs, salons, churches, etc, are essential to us, our well-being, and our community. Schoolyards, playgrounds, and extracurriculars are primary third places for children. Many of these places which form the backbone of communities were already under assault by suburban sprawl, car culture, and misguided city planners. Earlier this year, these places became illegal overnight.
Lockdown supporters dismissed concerns from their neighbors with dismissive and privileged statements. “Just work out at home.” “Make your own coffee and avocado toast.” “You can go a few months without your hairstylist.” On and on they went, dismissing people crying out for help as their depression grew.
It’s true we can make toast and do jumping jacks at home. This is obvious and misses the point. We depend on third places for our mental health. A widow sits at the coffee shop counter each morning because it could be her only social interaction of the day. A father goes to the gym to burn off stress. A mother goes to the salon to talk to other parents. A teenager attends a concert instead of sitting alone in a dark basement with dark thoughts.
Failing to account for these fundamental human needs is beginning to have grave consequences. At this very moment, grandparents are desperate to see their grandchildren. Children are desperate to see their friends and do what children do. Working adults are losing their jobs. At-risk populations and college students are seeing their hopes and dreams crushed. Businesses and community services are failing. What comes next could be more traumatic.
Depression has tripled this year in the United States for all age groups. The CDC recently reported that one in four young people has considered suicide this year. Moreover, the National Health Service found that depressed people are three times more likely to commit a violent crime. Cities have seen an uptick in violent crime, but this is only part of the story. According to a 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics study, family violence accounts for 33% of all violent crime reported to the police. Reports of child abuse are down this year, but that is no surprise. Teachers can’t see bruises over Zoom. Domestic abuse between partners has most certainly increased this year, but how much has gone unreported with spouses unable to seek support from their community?
As we begin to add up both sides of the lockdown equation, we are unfortunately stuck examining costs – and only costs. There are no benefits to Covid-19. The human death toll is one measure and might be the most obvious at this point, but even still, lockdown measures do not appear to have much impact on mortality. Over the next decade, the unseen costs will become more evident and we will all be ashamed of ourselves.
Health “experts” fed the egos of power-hungry politicians and everything else was deemed unimportant. Even humanity. We let it happen.
The hope I have is that once society regains its grip on sanity, life will return to normal. Not a “new normal” – just normal. Because normal is the outcome of millions of years of human nature, and human nature has not changed in the past few months.
We might also emerge from this bizarre Orwellian dystopia with a renewed appreciation for Main Street, community, and the third spaces. These places define normal and make us who we are. We support them because they support us in more ways than we realize. Perhaps we took these places for granted. Never again.