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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Michigan: How Neighborhood Establishments Might Be Important to Public Health

Gathering over a $1 cup of coffee at a fast-food restaurant or over a doughnut at the local bakery or even chatting with a hairstylist — all of these are examples of how people socialize outside of the home. But since the recession of 2008, many of these establishments have closed. In a recent paper published in the journal Health & Place, postdoctoral researcher Dr. Jessica Finlay and colleagues call for more research to be done into how their closure may impact public health.

Researchers call these spots “third places,” sites outside the home or work that serve vital and life-saving roles in communities. Libraries, police stations, community centers and churches opened as emergency warming centers during the 2019 polar vortex. Coffee shops and cafes, bars, barbershops, bowling alleys and laundromats serve as other affordable places for people to meet.

The researchers found that from the start of the Great Recession in 2008 to 2015, establishments such as grocery stores and convenience stores decreased by 23 percent, and religious organizations by 17 percent. In fact, the researchers found that most types of third places have declined, with the exception of eateries.

“Not everyone wants to go to a senior center or a community center for social interaction. Third spaces provide opportunities for social engagement, informal social support, and shelter from heat waves or cold spells, all for the cost of a cup of coffee,” said senior author Dr. Philippa Clarke, professor of epidemiology at Michigan Public Health and research professor at the SRC. “The potential loss of these places may have direct consequences for health and isolation among the more vulnerable members of society.”

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