A concept around for many years, but made popular by Ray Oldenburg’s book, “The Great Good Place,” ‘third places’ have become an integral part of life. ‘Third place’ is a term used in community building that refers to social environments separate from the two usual social surroundings of home (first place) and work (second place). People become loyal to their hangouts, just as they are loyal to their home and workplace.
‘Third places’ tend to be anchors in a community’s life. They facilitate and foster more creative interactions that, in turn, satisfy an individual’s need to connect with others. Small businesses, the typical hubs of ‘third places,’ recognize this desire and realize that finding a way to become indispensible to their customers is the key to sustainability.
Sprouting up in the form of coffee shops, teahouses, bars, or even public space, ‘third places’ share a number of common characteristics. Each place is typically neutral, meaning all are welcome and may come and go as desired with no consequence. They are level, unpretentious, plain, and status/class does not matter. As stated, conversation is the main activity and the mood is playful. ‘Third places’ are also easily accessible with long hours. Additionally, having regulars defines these places, but new people are welcome and encouraged.
In my opinion, herein lies the problem with the previous classification of ‘third place.’ A coffee shop no longer exemplifies a true ‘third place’ due to the emergence of technology. In other words, with Wi-Fi connections, laptops, and smartphones, the driving force of ‘third places,’ communication, no longer occurs. The gym cannot be someone’s place both because machines all face forward and gym-goers are usually silent while in attendance. Lastly, a bar or tavern can really only be a person’s ‘third place’ if said person consumes alcohol (and even if they do, people tend to decrease alcohol consumption exponentially as they get older after college). Redefining the notion is essential as these ‘third places’ contribute to life by rooting us, identifying us and supporting us.
I happen to love my home and love my job; it looks like I need to find my ‘third place.’
What is your ‘third place’ in your community?
Photo credit: mordac