Thick versus thin places

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St. Francis cathedral, Santa Fe, New Mexico, revised and remade but dating from colonial times

We often hear contemporary places described as "thin," with the suggestion that places used to be "thick." Contemporary places are not as engaging; they touch only part of us, though they may do this with glitter and superficial intensity. Older places engaged our whole being.

On the other hand a "thin" place leaves us freer to explore new roles and activities.

While it's possible to spin out a totalizing criticism of contemporary places using the vocabulary of thinness and thickness, it is more useful to use these concepts as partial diagnostic tools for distinguishing between different kinds of contemporary places. We could define a thin place as one that involves thin social roles. These are typically "modern" roles, though they need not be. In this sense, whether a place is thick or thin would not be the same as whether it is complex or simple.