Coffee and the city : towards a soft urbanity
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This dissertation is about coffee bars. In it I ask how and why they have emerged in the urban sphere, how they function and how they may be interpreted as indicators of structural changes on a societal level. To put it briefly: what is it that makes coffee bars so successful in modern society? I also ask another question: how do coffee bars contribute to a new perspective on urbanity, and what characterizes this urbanity? I decided to study coffee bars – as a phenomenon – since they aroused my curiosity about how changes in the urban environment occur. In Oslo, I had observed that in the space of a few years coffee bars went from being rare and almost exotic places to becoming part of the everyday urban environment. When a phenomenon arises, survives an initial boom and slowly but surely becomes integrated in the urban fabric, to the point that it becomes a natural part of it, it must have some qualities that are worth investigating. Consequently, I began to visit coffee bars systematically: observing, taking notes and engaging in conversations. I soon came to feel that many coffee bars represented something new; that their success in a prosaic and pragmatic way reflected unmet needs. Therefore, the dissertation started out as an empirical study, in which I studied the origins of the coffee bars, their history, their design features; observed life in coffee bars; and interviewed users, workers, owners and designers. During this investigation it became apparent to me that the coffee bars I surveyed had qualities that transcended a purely pragmatic approach. I then asked myself: Is there something in the way they work that suggests a deeper transformation of the urban sphere and its social and cultural fabric?