Carol Hunt: Now we're no longer able to wake up and smell the coffee
Employment, not great wealth, is the cornerstone of both a healthy economy and a healthy society, writes Carol Hunt
Coffee shops are not just places where you can get a decent espresso or cappuccino. Although if their societal contribution stopped at just that, they would more than have justified their existence.
But no, historically, coffee shops have contributed to the spread of the Enlightenment, to political intrigue, even to revolution. The coffee 'houses' that sprang up in Europe from 1650 onwards were the internet of their day -- the place you went to get and exchange information; to learn what was going on, not just with your neighbours, but in the wider world. Depending on the interests of customers, coffee houses would display commodity and share prices, shipping lists (Lloyds of London started as a coffee house), local and foreign news, and of course the latest in gossip and tittle-tattle.
Today many of us log on to Facebook or Twitter for the same sharing of information, but the coffee shop is still of great importance to a neighbourhood. It is what urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls that vital "third place"; beyond work and home, a neutral space which is crucial to the development of a community -- giving it a sense of place, of civic engagement and democracy -- a meeting spot where people get one of those ever-dwindling opportunities to bump into their neighbours, particularly important in busy city communities.