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The value of “third places”
May 13, 2024
Episode 1159

The value of “third places”

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Where do you spend time when you're not at home or work?

A “third place” is where people hang out when they’re not at home or work, and they’re becoming increasingly important for building community and connection. Guest host Reema Khrais explains why we’re hearing a lot more about them these days and shares the story behind her own third place. But first, we’ll discuss the knock-on effects of falling birth rates across the globe, why some cities are lowering speed limits, and why we don’t recommend throwing darts at stock listings.

Here’s everything we talked about today:

We want to hear about your third place! Tell us about it at makemesmart@marketplace.org or leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART.

The next $50,000 in donations to Marketplace will be matched, thanks to a generous gift from Joe Rush in Florida. Give now and double your impact: https://support.marketplace.org/smart-sn

Make Me Smart May 13, 2024 Transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Amy Scott

Let’s do it.

Reema Khrais 

Let’s do this. Oh, nice.

Amy Scott 

Hey everyone, I’m Amy Scott. Welcome back to Make Me Smart, where we make today make sense. Kai and Kimberly are both out today. So, you’re with me. And joining me is the host of Marketplace’s This is Uncomfortable podcast. The fabulous Reema Khrais. Hi Reema.

Reema Khrais 

Hello. Hi Amy. Hi everyone. It’s good to be back. Thanks for joining us today. It is Monday, May 13. And it’s good to talk to you, Amy. It’s been a while I feel like.

Amy Scott 

I know. And I’m not sure we’ve done this show together. So, this is a treat for me.

Reema Khrais

Yeah, this is nice.

Amy Scott

So, today we’re going to do some news and some smiles. So, let’s start with the news. Reema, what have you been looking at today?

Reema Khrais 

Alright, I’ll go first. So, for my news item, I want to talk about the global panic around the falling fertility rate, which I know has been mentioned on the show in relation to other stories. But I saw this article in the Wall Street Journal this morning about this topic about how birth rates are falling fast across countries, you know, across levels of income, levels of education, and how world leaders do not like that, and are scrambling to change that trend. And so yeah, I want to talk about why so many consider this to be such a big deal. But first, okay. To backup, I’m going to throw some stats your way. So, in this country, the birth rate has been falling since the Great Recession. Today, the average American woman has 1.6 children, which is the lowest rate on record. And more notably, it’s below the replacement rate of 2.1 children. So, that’s the rate we would need to sustain a stable population. Yeah. And so, like I said, it’s not specific to the US. It’s considered to be a global problem. Last year, China reported fewer births than expected. So did Egypt and Kenya. I’m sure you’ve also reported on this, Amy, to some extent on, you know, with some of the stories you’ve done for Marketplace.

Amy Scott 

Yeah, when I was covering education. That was a big deal. The demographic changes here. But yeah, it’s really fascinating that this is a global phenomenon.

Reema Khrais 

Yeah. In response, governments across the globe have been trying really hard to convince people to have more babies. Like in Japan, it’s super interesting. In this article, they mentioned how Japan now has, you know, hospital maternity care is now free. It offers stipends for giving birth, even fully pays for parental leave, and families get free college if you have more than three children.

Amy Scott

Wow.

Reema Khrais

Which is wild. And so, even with all of that, from what I understand, the efforts haven’t really worked. And then here in the US, you usually see Republican politicians, especially, you know, they seem to be concerned about this trend. Last year, I don’t know if you remember Trump saying that he supports paying out so called baby bonuses, so that more people are encouraged to give birth.

Amy Scott 

He called the declining fertility a bigger threat than Russia, right?

Reema Khrais 

Yeah. Yeah. And I think part of the panic too, is that like with a shrinking population, we presumably might have less clout, right? And, also, like, it can mean slower economic growth, a shrinking workforce with fewer younger workers that can put pressure on our healthcare systems and can make it harder to finance pensions. There are all these knock-on effects, which, you know, I get all of that. But at the same time/ I don’t know about you, but when I see these headlines, there is a part of me that’s like, oh, it is all that terrible, like, I don’t know. I’m like, well, that means a lot of young people, especially women have more opportunities than they did before. They’re reorganizing their lives in ways that might be more fulfilling or manageable, which is ultimately good for society. Also, probably better for our environment. Not to go too much on a tangent, but reading this made me think. We reported on this for an episode on This is Uncomfortable. A couple episodes back about how in South Korea, or it was like a little tidbit in an episode about Korea. But it’s really fascinating. There’s this like, relatively small but growing movement, where women who are frustrated with the patriarchy are refusing childbirth altogether. They’re rejecting sexual relationships with men. In some cases, even boycotting friendly relationship with men.

Amy Scott

Wow.

Reema Khrais

Yeah, it’s so interesting. And they’re taking this ideological stance to boycott the life they were conditioned to believe they needed in order to be happy. And obviously, that’s, you know, on the more extreme side of things, but I guess. I guess I’m trying to say is that there are increasingly social reasons for why people don’t want to have babies that no amount of government pressure will change, you know?

Amy Scott 

Yeah. And, you know, it’s interesting, you mentioned the environmental and climate impacts of this. I read that journal article. Not a single mention of the impact on the planet of having so many people. And I do realize that it’s very complicated because, you know, if people’s quality of life is affected by slower economic growth, you know, that will raise a lot of questions about you know, what a sustainable population really is when the planet has produced this kind of economy that relies on perpetual growth. But yeah, I wonder too, is it? Is it as dire as everyone says, or are there some benefits? So, I’m glad you raised this.

Reema Khrais 

Takes up a lot of space. Yeah. What’s your news item?

Amy Scott 

So, mine I guess is a little bit more concrete in that it’s about speed limits.

Reema Khrais 

Oh, was that a pun? No.

Amy Scott 

Oh, my God. It was an accidental opponent as mine usually are. So, there was a piece in Vox with the headline “Speed limits are too darn high.” Which I have to say, driving around Baltimore, I really agree with. Why do people drive so fast? It’s really scary to me sometimes. But last month, New York state passed a law allowing New York City to set its own speed limits, which it could not previously do. And this was after the state legislature was lobbied by families whose loved ones had been killed by drivers. It’s called Sammy’s Law after a boy named Sammy Cohen Eckstein, who was killed by a driver in Brooklyn in 2013. And this will allow New York City to drop the speed limit on some streets to 20 miles per hour, which might sound slow to people who are used to going 25 to 30 inside a city. But it’s a meaningful number because that is the speed at which most pedestrians, the Vox piece says at which most pedestrians who get hit by a car still have a good chance of survival. And above that the risk rises exponentially. So, someone hit by a car going 30 miles per hour is 70% more likely to be killed than by a car going 25 miles per hour. And speed was a factor in almost a third of all traffic deaths in 2021, which in recent years have reached a 40 are high. So, I just think the evidence was really compelling that speed kills and kind of makes you want to slow down, right? New York is not the only state doing this. California has proposed legislation that would lower speed limits in school zones from 25 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour or less. Washington DC actually reduced the default speed limit. So, the one that’s if there’s no other sign telling you how fast you can go, default to 20 miles per hour, and that was in 2020. So, I think this kind of thing is catching on. I mean, of course there are other factors in these pedestrian deaths. Our roads are designed to prioritize cars. People are driving bigger and heavier vehicles, which are more dangerous to pedestrians. There’s also been a documented rise in reckless and distracted driving since the start of the pandemic. Obviously, enforcement is going to play a role as well. Like you can have a speed limit, but it doesn’t really matter if people just ignore it. But just wanted to give you one example here in Baltimore. There’s this treacherous section of highway interstate 83. It’s called the Jones Falls Expressway with just a lot of curves. A lot of people taking those curves way too fast and a lot of traffic accidents. And a couple of years ago, they installed speed cameras, two speed cameras. And the Baltimore Banner reported that crashes dropped by half in the three months after they were installed. So, enforcement does work.

Reema Khrais

These things make a difference.

Amy Scott

Yeah.

Reema Khrais 

It reminds me of this interview I listened to. It was on the podcast, The Gray Area, which is produced by Vox. It’s a really great show. But they interviewed this author a couple of years ago. I just looked it up. Her name is Jesse Singer. And she wrote a book called, “There Are No Accidents.” And she basically argues that most accidents including road accidents are not random or unfortunate or an accident and that they are, in fact, predictable and preventable. I remember. She called them manufactured vulnerabilities.

Amy Scott

Oh, wow.

Reema Khrais

Yeah, like we’ve built these dangerous environments and infrastructures that do lead to real differences. Like, racial and economic differences. When you look at these so-called accidental deaths, and yeah, she talks about how these accidents become an issue of like, personal responsibility. It’s our fault, instead of some systemic failure. Yeah, it’s a fascinating topic to your point. Yeah, enforcement works. When we make adjustments to our infrastructure environment, they can lead to fewer so called accidents.

Amy Scott 

Yeah, just designing the roads differently. Traffic calming. It’s such a wonky term, but it actually does work if you have to, like slow down to go around a potted plant in the middle of the street. Yeah

Reema Khrais 

Should we smile?

Amy Scott 

I could smile. I could use a smile.

Reema Khrais

Let’s do it.

Amy Scott

Do you have one?

Reema Khrais 

Oh, you know what? I do have one, I realized I did not put it in the document.

Amy Scott 

It’s going to be a surprise. I can’t wait.

Reema Khrais 

Do you want to go first?

Amy Scott 

Sure. Yeah, so I saw this in the Wall Street Journal. They have a column called “Heard on the Street.” And their columnist threw 12 darts at stock market listings and made an 80% return on stocks that they’ve received through this method, which is just so funny to me. So, they were inspired by this famous book, “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” by Burton Malkiel, in which he wrote that a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at the financial pages of a newspaper could do just as well as a portfolio selected by professional stock pickers. And so, they decided to put that to the test. They actually did this back in 2018. And beat professional fund managers by 22 percentage points that year. This time around, they beat the pros by 48 percentage points. But it’s pretty funny because out of those 12 stocks, all the returns came from a single one company and insurance company called Route Inc. And, actually, they cited a long-term study of US stock returns that showed that half of all excess returns came from just 83 companies. So, most stocks underperform risk free investment. I’m quoting, “which is why diversified portfolio is not designed to shoot the lights out or more prudent.” Standard disclaimer, as always, please consult your own financial professional. I’m not recommending that you throw darts at stocks or do anything with stocks.

Reema Khrais

It is tempting.

Amy Scott

I know it made me kind of want to do it and not actually put any money in the market, but just see what happens.

Reema Khrais 

Yeah, that’d be a fun experiment. Yeah. I, as usual, when I fill in host, I feel like I’m scrambling to find it make me smile.

Amy Scott 

Because the news is so depressing. Yeah.

Reema Khrais 

Yeah, because the world is very bleak. And so, like, five minutes before we did this, or we, you know, started the show. Someone from the team recommended this article, which really resonated with me, and it did make me smile. So, it’s an article in Vox about third places. Are you familiar with that term?

Amy Scott 

No.

Reema Khrais 

Yeah, I wasn’t until recently, but basically it was defined in 1989 by the sociologist. And third places are settings that people frequent beyond their home. The idea that like, the first places are home, work is the second place, and third places can be like community centers, social clubs, parks, gyms, malls, whatever. And the idea is like, it’s an equalizer where like people from different backgrounds, different perspectives come together, and it’s, you know, low cost, low chill. And the article is talking about how these third places have become less common. Like, even before the pandemic, as you know, people spending more time alone. People aren’t gathering community as much as they used to. But then at the same time, people want more of them. And it made me think of my third place, which always makes me smile. It is this. You know, I live in Portland, Oregon now.

Amy Scott 

Oh, yeah, I forgot that.

Reema Khrais 

I don’t know if you knew that.

Amy Scott 

I love that. I love that for you, Reema.

Reema Khrais 

Yeah, we love it here. We moved here a year and a half ago and didn’t know anyone and just decided to try something new for a bit. And we live in this neighborhood. And like a 10-minute walk from here is this place called The Book Pub, which is what it sounds like. And it’s just very cute and humble and mismatched furniture. And you know, the owner who’s always there and knows your name and talks to you all the time. And they have community events every night. And it was one of the first places we frequented, or we went to. And that night, we met the owner. And I guess like a few days later, it was Thanksgiving. And we didn’t again, didn’t know anyone, we didn’t have plans. So, she was like, just come over. And like we’re going to have Thanksgiving dinner here at The Book Pub with my family and my, you know, employees. And so, we had a very wholesome Thanksgiving there with her. And yeah.

Amy Scott

That is so lovely.

Reema Khrais

We’ve returned multiple times. Yeah, we try to go to trivia when we can every Wednesday, and we actually went with friends. We try to go with friends when we can. And we call ourselves the third place, which was a total coincidence. It like a name we gave ourselves, so that we lower people’s expectations when we inevitably don’t get first or second. And then the owner of The Book Pub was like, oh, did you know that third place means, you know, what we’ve been talking about?

Amy Scott 

No kidding. Well, that’s the first thing I thought of when you asked me if I knew that term. I was like, yeah, I finished third many times. Yeah. I love that. And I’m sitting there thinking, what’s my third place?

Reema Khrais

Yeah, I was going to ask.

Amy Scott

I need to work on that, Reema. I mean, honestly, it’s probably my kids’ school at this point. Which is maybe where it should be at this point in my life. My kids’ school are on the field of their soccer games.

Reema Khrais 

Awe, cheering them on. That’s nice.

Amy Scott 

But I like your neighborhood spot. It’s good. I’m going to try to seek something like that.

Reema Khrais 

Yeah, I feel like we definitely got lucky. They are hard to find.

Amy Scott 

So, listeners. I feel like this is a really good time to solicit audience input. What’s your third place? We want to hear about it.

Reema Khrais 

Tell us. Yeah, let us know. All right. Well, I think that is all for the show. Before we go, I do have one thing I need to say. So, if you are someone who likes to wait and donate to Marketplace and Make Me Smart when your gift will be matched, now is your moment. So, we announced a big match this morning: $50,000 in individual gifts will be matched thanks to a long-time listener and supporter, Joe rush. So, that means when you donate now, your gift will be doubled.

Amy Scott 

That is so cool. Thanks, Joe. So, like many media organizations these days, some of our traditional sources of revenue are down this year. So, donations from listeners like you are especially critical right now. And if you’ve never given, this is a really powerful time to do so because of that match. You can go to marketplace.org/givesmart, or follow the link in our show notes. Thank you so much.

Reema Khrais 

Yeah, thank you.

Amy Scott 

Make Me Smart is produced by Courtney Bergsieker. Today’s program was engineered by Jayk Cherry. Ellen Rolfes writes our newsletter. Our intern is Thalia Menchaca

Reema Khrais 

Marissa Cabrera is our senior producer. Bridget Bodnar is the director of podcasts. And Francesca levy is the executive director of Digital.

Amy Scott 

I was waiting for the swell. You gotta wait.

Reema Khrais 

I know. I did not realize that. I prompted you early.

Amy Scott 

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