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A Guy Walks Into a Bar...

We've talked about the concept of "third places" before here on nextMLT and how important they are to a thriving community. Kaid Benfield's book People Habitat has a chapter title Walk, Drink, Walk Back where he discusses the fact that bars and pubs often act as a "third place" for many people:

In the download age—which has already killed all but specialty music stores, weakened movie theaters, put print newspapers on life support, and finished off all but a few bookstores—the remaining places where there is a sort of shared community commons are becoming ever more important. Bars qualify: you can’t download a pint of Guinness.

He also references a Michael Hickey's article, In Praise of (Loud, Stinky) Bars:

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.

Later in the chapter he brings up the idea of a "pub shed." City planners often use the concept of a "walk shed" or "ped shed" when discussing the distance someone must walk to a certain amenity, most often a transit stop. The theory goes that most people won't walk much more than 1/4 mile to a transit stop. This distance, of course, would vary in reality due to a number of factors such as infrastructure, whether or not there are hills, and how interesting the walk is. A "pub shed" map can be an interesting exercise to determine how much of your City is within walking distance of a pub or bar.

I decided to take a look at Mountlake Terrace using a 10-minute walk (or 1/2 mile) as the "pub shed". For simplicity, I've used a 1/2 mile radius around each bar/pub. In reality, the street layout would cause the shape to be something more like a diamond. Correct me if I'm wrong, but from my count Mountlake Terrace only has four places that would be considered bars or pubs. Those would be Diamond Knot Brewpub, the Getaway Tavern, O'Houlies Pub, and Ringer's Pub. You can see that the majority of the City is covered but the Lake Ballinger neighborhood, the very southeast corner of the City, and the north-central/northeast portion of the City are really not within a reasonable walking distance of a bar or pub.


What does this mean? Maybe not a lot. There are some great things about having a pub in your neighborhood, and some people might argue that there are some not-so-great things about having a pub in your neighborhood. I do think Benfield is getting at something here though:

If we can take the measure of a person by the company he or she keeps, perhaps we can take the measure of a neighborhood by whether there are good “third places” to keep company. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a good bar is all it takes to make a neighborhood great, but it’s a relevant indicator. And there are many good reasons for that bar to be in walking distance of its clientele.


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