There are very few spots along the streets of modern towns and neighbourhoods where people can meet and congregate, happily and casually, for hours at a time, but this was not always the case. In mediaeval towns, for example, towns and villages had simple, open structures where auctions, market fairs and open-air meetings took place. In European cities, cafes and beer-halls were commonly created where people could sit and drink an aperitif or a coffee and watch the world go by. Such places have an important role in community life. There are many things that people can do there: take the view and the air on a terrace, read a newspaper, stroll, play chess, draughts or cards and meet other people. One of the important functions of such places is that they provide a place for newcomers to get to know a neighbourhood, as well as a meeting place for regulars. People feel they have a right to be there, and can stay as long as they want.
Experiments in creating 'outdoor rooms', to which people would be drawn in ways they would not be to a simple empty space, resulted in a dramatic change in the life of the community. Many people spent more time outdoors, public talk was animated, and cars were replaced by people. Research done at the University of Oregon confirmed that students placed as much importance for their studies in 'talking with a small group of students in a coffee shop' as on 'examinations' and 'laboratory study'.