We need something in a similar vein to the old Public Baths of Ancient Rome. Something literally everyone in the city, rich and poor, optimate or populare (basically conservative or progressive), man or woman can do together any time as a community. Something free, something pleasurable, an excuse to leave the house and socialize face to face for an afternoon if you didn’t have anything else to do.
The Roman baths were a unifying place where everyone could go to enjoy the day with others and make new friends. There were athletic centers and dice games played in secondary rooms in the same building to encourage people to stay awhile and mingle with their neighbors. This shared activity was a huge part of Rome’s cultural identity and way of life. It was a place to meet new people and maybe hear what they had to say, introduce yourself to a nice girl you’d otherwise never get the chance know, and even meet the Consuls (basically Mayor-President) and Senators in person to speak your mind or hear their reasons for an unpopular decision.
There is absolutely no equivalent experience to that today. People just go to work, come home, and ignore each other. Maybe once in awhile, if you get invited, you go out somewhere with friends but even that gets harder to arrange once adulthood responsibilities set in. Maybe if you have the money to spare you eat out once in awhile. If you’ve saved up for months you go on a nice vacation…if your job allows it. If you’re desperate you go to a bar to try to meet people. But for the most part we all ignore each other and it’s not healthy. There’s nowhere to go if you’re not spending money and/or already meeting someone in particular. I don’t think movie theaters or bars are an effective alternative either, since the former isn’t a social/talkative activity and often bars aren’t either (due to the loud music, and people coming with dates/groups already). Plus, in the case of bars, what if you’re underage, an alcoholic or just don’t want to waste your money getting buzzed?
I know the reason we don’t build public baths or a modern equivalent is because we have new forms of entertainment competing for our time now. Why go bathe, exercise and play board games with your neighbors when you can watch TV and browse the internet? (Except of course that the latter is more isolating and psychologically detrimental.) Plus, attitudes on nudity and male/female fraternizing have become more repressive since paganism fell out of fashion, so bathing has changed to a private activity. But we’re slowly but surely fighting back against those cultural attitudes now. Women are more liberated, sex is less taboo and old social norms are being challenged in other theaters of society. There’s no reason communal bathing can’t come back.
And of course, it need not be bathing either–just a free, social public space where everyone is welcome and there’s no pressure to leave after eating your meal or completing your paid-for activity. We desperately need to move away from the idea that everything has to be a gouged, profit-driven, on-the-go business enterprise. We need to stop living like we always have something better to do or someone better to see and just chill out with the people around us once in awhile. Get out of your car, step away from your phone, and enjoy real one-on-one quality time.
I agree. I think mixed public baths Roman-style would be ideal as an informal place of enjoyment and encounter and as a means of doing away with some stuffy ideas.
Many years ago I was lucky enough to visit the Baths of Caracalla, awe-inspiring even as a ruin.