Drawn by the concept of a "third place" as described by this book and referenced elsewhere, I thought I'd read to find out what this was about. In the end, this was a fascinating and thought provoking book. Mr. Oldenburg posits that much of our societal ills today are resultant from a lack of free association. That is, the places where people congregate / hang-out are disappearing because of urbanization, industrialization, etc. One example, the German beer garden (and its descendant in the US with early German immigrants) as a family affair - as, economically, there didn't seem to be any reason for such an institution in an "American" community, this venue slowly disappeared or devolved into the bars we know today - focused on serving alcohol to the subservient and willing. In fact, Oldenburg points out, the beer served in the beer garden was weaker than what we know today because the point was not the beer - the point was the association and conversation within the community, among families.
As we move towards a "private property society" and focus on "property rights" as we seem to understand them, the ability to be social, without prior planning, is slowly eroding. Simultaneously, the places to "hang out" are disappearing as a consumer driven market seems desirous of generating the most profit for the fewest people (corporations). Because of a desire for inexpensive goods, a local business, owned and operated by nearby residents, is next to impossible - especially in the face of the mass market competition from large corporations.
I think Oldenburg hits the nail squarely on the head. As I drive around (in a car-based economy), it's increasingly difficult to find a place to "hang out" and/or become a regular. (1) Restaurants are driven towards specific time limit for customers in hopes of turning a larger profit by serving more customers; (2) American bars are not conducive because service deteriorates if you choose not to imbibe and those that also serve food follow (1); and (3) the notion of coffee shops not driven by 1 or 2 are few and far between. Even assuming that there are such places of the "third place" variety, it more often than not requires a car to get there (not to mention paying to simply park near a place).
Anyone interested in property rights, humans as a social animal, and the notion of a "community," should read this book.