Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson writes about those parts of the American city that allow “complete strangers to observe and appreciate one another” across racial barriers. Anderson calls these spaces “cosmopolitan canopies,” and says they let ordinary people become amateur anthropologists, watching and, eventually, reaching out to people of whom they’d be more wary in other places. His broader question: can we encourage the growth of cosmopolitan canopies? Or do they only grow from the bottom up?…
Why do cosmopolitan canopies like Reading Terminal [in Philadelphia]work? (Anderson points to many others: parks, transportation hubs, sports stadiums, even the Whole Foods.) These are safe spaces, separate from the street, made warm and intimate by a shared experience — food, shopping, travel, cheering on a team. But there’s also an intangible ingredient: a mood, Anderson writes, of “civility” that allows people “to stretch themselves mentally, emotionally, and socially,” and to develop “the growing social sophistication that allows diverse urban people to get along.” Because they’re so hard to replicate, Anderson argues, they ought to be treasured and protected — and those of us who enjoy them ought to treat them “not as ‘time out’ from normal life but as a model for what social relationships could become.” That’s how cosmopolitanism spreads.
I may have to check out this book if only for Anderson’s thoughts on the Reading Terminal Market: I have been to this central Philadelphia location several times and it is indeed an interesting place. Between the mix of people and the various food offerings, it is a great place to people watch.
But I guess I will have to read the book to find out whether Anderson thinks the openness of such places is only available to regulars (as this article hints) or whether tourists and sporadic visitors can also participate in this different kind of place. Also, I would be interested in Anderson’s thoughts regarding whether these sorts of spaces can be intentionally constructed and whether these spaces are different when they are privately owned (this would get at some of the debates in sociology over “public spaces”).