Not everyone reads GK Chesterton, so I guess the news from Oxford might have taken some by surprise, but researchers from that great university have found that people with a local pub who regularly had better all around lives.
According to the article, “A study by researchers found regulars with a local pub near their home were ‘significantly’ happier, had more friends, better life satisfaction and drank more moderately.”
This makes a lot of sense. A pub is a classic “third space” that allows for a fuller range of interactions than can be found at either work or home. Moreover, being stuck at home all the time can be just as bad as being stuck at work all the time. A local, almost by definition, attracts a clientele from nearby and therefore becomes a natural place for forming the social bonds that actually make community.
In Britain, the local is an established, if threatened institution. In the United States, they almost don’t exist at all.
In what is either a tribute to the puritanical zeal of the Puritans or the faith in rationalism of the Founders, American zoning has been so steadfastly opposed to the idea of any commercial use being near residences that we create the absurdity of forcing people to drive to bars, resulting in them driving drunk home — and thousands of people descend on Washington, DC to protest the drinking, not the driving.
For example, according to Charlie Gardner, even the most restrictive residential zoning in Germany and Japan still allows for neighborhood commercial uses like pubs and small offices. In the United States this is usually the sign of a quaint old neighborhood or New England town, with land values as high as the buildings are old.
In Germany and Japan, both things can be built in brand new subdivisions. Zoning in both countries is also governed at a very high level and permits a much greater degree of variety in home types. Not only has this contributed to comparatively inexpensive rents in Germany and a Japanese building industry that builds more houses in Tokyo than some countries.
This country desperately needs to start learning from the rest of the world.