What small changes would make it easier to HANG OUT and DO THINGS?
Oh my god my number one is to replace Facebook. There are so many communities that exist only on Facebook and it seems to be the only way people have of organizing around neighborhood stuff beyond the people you already know IRL. I hate it so much. The private platform problem wouldn’t be so bad if there were real alternatives but it’s just the one. A public or at least nonprofit alternative would be better, I think? At least for this specific use case. I don’t know. It’s a hard problem.
More work flexibility would be key for me. In the early days of the pandemic, it felt like there was a shift, where my company treated us like whole humans again because lives were literally on the line (I recognize this was just my company and I was very privileged to experience that). I was able to duck out at 4 to meet friends for an early happy hour, or I could start late after meeting someone for a cup of coffee. My job has reverted back to butts in seats, and that lack of flexibility has really dampened my attempts to meet with my community.
I know I always blame capitalism….but capitalism. At least how we know it now.
As a chronically ill and disabled person with Long COVID and at high risk of additional COVID harms, i and many others have the roadblock of airborne pathogens in a culture where masking has been discarded, indoor ventilation is unreliable and weather can impede outdoor plans. I am grateful for other COVID cautious people who make efforts to be able to share space or host online gatherings but it’s a very intense and sad problem.
I spend most of my days thinking about this, as someone whose job is effectively community organizing around the (lack) of (safe) public spaces. In my opinion, from a societal POV, two built environment challenges are key impediments: 1) As you mention, a dearth of public spaces to connect with others, especially during times when people are not working, which has made it very challenging to find the spaces to do the important work of community creation, whether that is as "simple" as a knitting circle (one here meets in a Whole Foods, which seems nice until you realize that a Whole Foods or a Starbucks is no substitution for a truly public space that *everyone* has and can feel ownership over) or a group trying to organize to improve their neighborhood. 2) Car culture supremacy (in the US, at least), which means that people drive nearly everywhere. Walking and biking and transit are the forms of movement that lend themselves to spontaneous and key social interactions, but they are least-used, and car supremacy makes them dangerous and unpleasant (or people perceive them that way) in most places. The prevalence of cars spirals outward: our public funds go into highway expansions and endless road maintenance instead of public spaces or art; parents can succumb to the pressure of endlessly packed kids' schedules because driving is "easy" and "fast"; people are frustrated and mad and individualistic as they get behind the windshield; and cars are obscenely expensive, meaning that people are working a great deal to be able to afford them.
How to solve is broad and wide-reaching, but IMO it starts with all of us making a choice. I hear time and again from others who look at my life that it is impossible for them, for any number of reasons. But they look with a sigh of jealousy at my cargo bike and 2-block access to a grocery store with reasonable rent, while telling me that kids "need" a yard. From people who want to make change where they are at but are hesitant to move forward. It is very difficult, but it takes doing things like walking your kid to school one day a week - and if that is too unsafe, starting to raise a stink and organizing with other parents who are also pissed by the lack of a sidewalk or traffic light. It takes doing things like my old roommate did and leaving notes at every house on the block about how she is available to call if they need help or want to connect (out of which she has made a lifelong friendship with someone of a different generation, and made smaller connections with others). It takes looking around at what others are doing that feels impossible and trying it out. It is so hard, but that is where all of the power is, because that is how organizing and demands for better transit, public spaces, whatever all come from.
Sorry, soap box. In terms of solutions, we also need way more organizing trainings - places where average people who care about something can learn how to talk to others about their concerns, how to listen, how to build meeting agendas and make meetings inclusive and dynamic spaces and know when to move urgently and when to pause, how to do things like understand power dynamics and how to understand what has been ripped away from them through our starvation of the collective realm.
Came here to comment immediately because for me, the roadblock is so straightforward - our HUGE spread out metro area. After many years living here, grad school, jobs, activities, etc - we have tons and tons of friends who theoretically live in our metro area. But in reality, they are all at least 45 minutes away, if we're lucky and there's no traffic. So we end up actually seeing each other maybe a few times a year. It drives me CRAZY.
The lack of places with COMFY chairs to just sit and hang solo or as a group of 2-6. Restaurants have the seats, but alcohol and noise. Library room chairs aren't comfy, park picnic tables are weather dependent - and not comfy. Coffee shops now cater to the laptop crowd. There used to be a Cafe designed around the "come in and hang" with couches, comfy chairs, etc. and it was the best.
I think the biggest roadblock for several groups I'm involved in is a lack of personal accountability to a group. It might have to do with an urban mindset (I live in the NYC metro area and have thought a good bit about this) where everyone is consciously or subconsciously holding out in case "something better" comes along, but that means that no one ever fully commits to "being there in person" or "taking charge of something that needs to be done." We are all incredibly protective of our time, so if it's going to take an hour to get to, say, a picnic in the park (because for at least half the people, no matter where the picnic is held, it's going to take an hour), we might tentatively commit and then wait to see if we schedule something better the night before or the day of, which would make us "unfortunately unable to make it."
It's not a small change, by any means, but dying malls are such perfect spaces to revitalize, and I don't even know where to start. They've (at least around me) got a bus stop, mine generally have a kid area, food, everything you need when you can't be outside.
I’ve read some interesting stuff on how the internet, while not as rewarding as real community, has such a low barrier to entry that it warps our reward systems to see other things as not worth the effort. It’s so easy to get out your phone and scroll that even if this venue was easy to get to, people would at first be artificially hesitant to do so and start up a group game, activity, etc.
Some kind of built-in activity or “spectacle” would probably help -- a climbing wall, a regular event (trivia, talent show), an interesting art installment? For my own part, I’ll admit I do love a conversation starter
For me, the biggest roadblock is around covid safety/indoor air quality. I live in Boston, and during the fall and winter the hardest thing is navigating covid safety when most fun community activities are indoors. It took me a painfully long time to recover from my last covid infection a year ago, and I now have long-term health issues that will get worse if/when I am infected again.
Especially this year, it's been somewhat devastating to watch as places that had been accessible from a covid pov become less so. My community choir, which was mask-mandatory until this fall, is one of the places that I'm mourning the most, and I question the decision to go mask optional when many of our members are older adults.
So it brings me a lot of joy to be in spaces where covid community care is still being practiced, by way of masks, hepa filters, open windows, etc. Shoutout in particular to my local fiber arts store which has continued to make their store an incredibly safe community place for people like me who still need to be careful.
Public transit. I saw the prompt and didn't even have to think, it's better public transit that goes more places more quickly and more safely.
I'll once again note youth sport hegemony. No one has time or energy for anything else when you are taking 9 year olds out of state for sports.
Every time I visit a European city, I wonder why it seems to have a more relaxed attitude than any place in the US, especially when it comes to kids and families existing in the public sphere. And yes, I don’t think it can be boiled down to one cause and I’m sure a lot of comes from better social safety nets and actually caring for children, but the presence of tons of public space - that people can use freely without being accused of loitering - always makes me jealous. The number of times I’ve seen preteens joyfully playing soccer in a public square at night breaks my heart for what US kids could have! Why can’t we build things in hopes that something great will come out of it (community, socializing, exercise) instead of defaulting to squashing a common good in fear of “the worst” outcome?
I guess my blocker is people lacking imagination and thinking change isn’t possible when our current reality is the outcome of other people’s (or corporations) imaginations (and personal interests).
A big one is the challenge of finding each other. On the internet, it's easy to find people who have similar interests or perspectives as you. But in real life...how do you find someone who likes the same genre of books or who wants to talk about philosophy or whatever? I would love to hang out with more ace people, but it's almost impossible to find them, not only because I live in a very conservative and religious area, but also because most people don't tell other people they're ace. It just doesn't come up.
Not a small change, but for my diseased ass, and now the millions with sister-disease long covid, not being so f'n sick.
On all days, I am in pain, exhausted, and feel like I have food poisoning and the flu. Many days, I get myself fed and go to the bathroom—period. On a good day, I can add briefly getting out of the house, and do 90m of work or attend a telehealth appointment. On a great day, I can add a shower. On a stratospherically rare day, I can add in a hang, but often at huge cost.
The last time I hung out with my galpals I was crashed for a full 8 days—no ability to work, leave the house, and only got one or two showers in while in serious pain and duress.
For people like me, online community and Facebook becomes a lifeline—no one needs us to shower, leave our houses; no one is giving us COVID through the wifi.
We need research, awareness, treatments and dare I hope, cures.
*bathrooms in public spaces! Our city has a ton of parks and public spaces but many have no bathrooms or bathrooms with extremely limited hours. I can't enjoy a day at the park if there's no restroom.
*spaces for families. So many spaces are designed for adults or kids. Why can't a space be both?! A few friends are actually starting a business to make adult friendly spaces more accessible to children and I'm excited to see what they build.
*reliable public transit. It's been a disaster here since the pandemic. I'd love to drive less but when the alternative is waiting 20 mins for a bus that never comes, I'll stick with my car.
*multi-purpose spaces: you can't eat in a library, there's no table in the park, no bathrooms in the square...we need to rethink and rebuild so that spaces can serve more than one purpose.