United We Hang Out

Come together, America: From rib joints to the Grand Canyon, 60 essential gathering places that enrich our country.

| January-February 2002

By creating Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the United States established a tradition of recognizing and protecting natural wonders. To this day, our national parks, monuments, historic sites, wildlife preserves, recreation areas, and wilderness areas remain a rich inheritance shared by all Americans.

But as a country we have not shown the same kind of concern for the places most of us spend time day-to-day. The soul of America is found not just in purple mountain’s majesty, but also corner coffee shops, neighborhood playgrounds, and Main Streets. Our local hangouts are too often neglected, growing shabby and unappealing, as so much of America’s resources are funneled into the private pursuits of home and business. But now, as a new sense of unity sweeps through the land, it’s time to recognize the value of all the places where we come together as neighbors, citizens, friends. So in the spirit of celebrating what’s great about this land, we feature on the following pages a list of 60 great public places in America—an eclectic assortment of favorite hangouts from Key West to Seattle.

In drafting the list, we drew upon the work of the Project for Public Spaces, a national advocacy group, and Gianni Longo’s book A Guide to Great American Public Places, as well as suggestions from friends around the country and happy memories of our own travels. We define the idea of public place broadly here, ranging from rib joints to the Grand Canyon, art museums to Coney Island. Our only firm criterion was that these places must be open to everyone at no more than a modest cost.


The EastWaterfront,
Portland, Maine

Vibrant downtown district that has been revitalized but not gussied-up beyond all recognition.

Fenway Park,
Boston

Threatened baseball shrine that blends wonderfully into the surrounding neighborhood.



Public Garden,
Boston

Not only the setting of children’s classic Make Way for Ducklings, but also a well-used front yard for thousands of nearby urban dwellers.

Main Street,
Northampton, Massachusetts

Bustling small-town Main Street with an alternative twist.