Can Courts be “Cosmopolitan Canopies?”

The Washington Post has a nice article today about the concept of “Cosmopolitan Canopies,” places where diverse people can come together and interact.  The idea is explored in a book by Yale Professor Elija Anderson, called The Cosmopolitan Canopy, Race and Civility in Everyday LifeThe Post quotes Anderson as follows: 

Anderson describes these locations as spaces that permit people from homogenous communities to observe and learn about people from different backgrounds. Such settings also offer people an oasis from the turf tensions in gentrifying neighborhoods and competitive workplaces.

The Post article describes one such place we have enjoyed with our grandson, near where some of our family lives, as follows:

On hot sunny days, small children of all hues splash and squeal in the fountain in the center of the Columbia Heights shopping complex [in DC], while watchful parents exchange smiles and small talk.

So, here is my thought:  what can we do to make courts “Cosmopolitan Canopies?”  I have certainly enjoyed watching self-help centers where there is a general feel of people helping each other, not just staff helping litigants.  On the other hand, people visiting courts are under tension — that may make some people more helpful, but others less open to helping or being helped.  (I was particularly struck by the Post article’s description of shoppers introducing each other to their foods in stores that serve as “Cosmopolitan Canopies.”  “Like the time [a woman] was picking over the avocados when a Jamaican man standing next to her offered advice on how to choose the best ones.

Maybe one simple start would be to make sure that court cafeterias offer foods from different cultures.  Maybe progress on LEP issues, including multi-lingual and cultural materials will expand the sense of friendliness to all cultures, and the sense that the courthouse is “home” to all races and ethnicities.  Maybe displays of culturally diverse community resources will help.  Maybe making sure that the design of the courthouse fosters interaction between litigants would help in this and other ways.

Anyway, please offer thoughts as to how the courthouse can be made a friendly and sharing place for all.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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