Category Archives: Ideas and Issues

Disappearance of Third Spaces

New Orleans        Third spaces received a fair amount of attention not so long ago.  These were the places between work and play where community could be built.   How will they survive the pandemic?

Libraries are a good example.  In recent years their mission has adapted and evolved.  No longer simply a place for books on shelves, they are now hubs for internet and computer access for those lacking such facilities.  E-books can be checked out along with CDs, videos, and any manner of other things. They were places where people could hang out, read a paper, flip through a book, do homework, or whatever.  In most cases, they have not reopened and seem still navigating the new world.

Coffeehouses are another.  Certainly, their popularity has soared in recent decades, but as community alternative spaces for business, pleasure, social interactions, and cultural development they have been mainstays for hundreds of years.  Coffeehouses are hubs for students, teleworkers, artists, musicians, and generally something closer to community centers and fundamental meeting places.  At Fair Grinds Coffeehouse where we host visiting musicians, busking and building an audience, we have no idea when will be open in the evenings again.  The dozen twelve-step groups that met in our common space have largely adapted to Zoom meetings, but they want the fellow-feeling again that meetings bring.  A coffeehouse that is just takeout, where people run in and out, is important, but there’s a difference between a fueling station and community hub.  We had a group that had met every morning for more than a dozen years to read the papers, discuss events, drink coffee, and be together.  What happens to them?  Can they comeback?  Can we?  We wonder.  We’re not sure.

Bars and some neighborhood cafes are also third spaces for many people and part of how they build communities.  There are hundreds of towns all over America where a local café is a meeting place early in the morning for a wide range of workers, business-people, and others eating breakfast or having a cup of coffee, but more critically building social capital, keeping up with the community.  What coffee doesn’t fuel, sometimes libations provide.  Watering holes like many in our neighborhoods succeed in becoming community spaces as well.  Rules that only allow tables, and few of them, and no one sitting at the bar, make this hard, as do capacity limits of 25 or 50%.

Many of these small businesses that provide the layered infrastructure of neighborhoods and create unique communities are not going to be able to make it through this pandemic, as it continues to spool out longer and longer.  Will anything replace them, if the new normal insists on permanent social spacing?  Hard to imagine.


The Paycheck Protection Program Reveal

New Orleans      The Paycheck Protection Program, known as PPP, was a major part of the Congressionally approved stimulus program as part of the CARES Act.  After the Treasury Department and the Trump administration played button-button for a bit, both refusing to reveal recipients, and then having to walk back those claims, they finally have revealed a partial list of beneficiaries.   85% of the money went to firms receiving less than $150,000, but more than 5000 firms received more between $5 and $10 million.  The information disclosed only covers the larger allotments.

There are of course anomalies.  If you applied in South or North Dakota, your chances of getting a PPP forgivable loan were 90%.  Not bad, especially given the low incidence of the virus in those states.  If you were one of the bigtime, 100 law firms that were well-connected, like David Boies and some of Trump’s old lawyers, cha-ching.  The Trump organization didn’t apply, but a lot of their tenants did.  So, it goes.

Looking at the state data gives a more granular view and some surprising information.

The first thing that jumps out is the fact that some businesses on almost every page of the data claim that receiving the PPP loan will allow them to save exactly zero jobs.  That’s a head scratcher.  The whole point of the program is that it saves jobs, and is only a forgivable loan because it provides more than half of the money to support payrolls.

Both of the two big garbage contractors in New Orleans, Richards and Metro, received between one and two million dollars.  Metro said it would save 144 jobs and Richards 130 jobs.  That’s interesting to us.  Local 100  represents hoppers that are subcontracted to Richards.  We know that neither company employs that many drivers, so we are left to wonder if they are claiming that they are also protecting the jobs of the subcontractors, despite the fact that those are separate companies, and each company swears it is not a co-employer.  Garbage doesn’t take a holiday, so neither of these outfits ever shutdown, since they and their workers were essential services, so likely the PPP was simply a way for them to transfer payroll costs during the pandemic to the federal government.  This may explain why we were able to negotiate hazardous duty supplemental pay for our hoppers employed by Creative Visions, a captive subcontractor also owned by Richards.  It raises questions why non-union hoppers with Metro have not done better despite the PPP monies.

Charter schools and Catholic parochial schools got big grants, but not public schools.  A daiquiri shop got money, but had no employees.  You figure.

State by state these lists are going to raise similar questions and controversies.  We can hardly wait to research this more closely!  You should do so as well!