Community spaces – exploring the ‘third place’

Two days ago a few members of the team sat down with our CEO Grace to revive a discussion on an interesting project that Grace has been inspired to do for many years now. While we can’t divulge on the actual specifics of the project (watch this space) – it does revolve around the concept of the ‘third place’ which is thus the focus of today’s post.

A third place is basically a place/space where people can engage in informal public life. While home and the workplace are referred to as the first and second place, respectively, at its core the function of the third place is to encourage balance by providing a platform for social interaction and in allowing individuals to withdraw from the duties of life and reinvigorate themselves.

Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg has written expansively on the importance of informal public gathering places for a functioning civil society. He coined the term “third place”.

Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. Cafés, community libraries, old historical buildings, piazzas, social clubs are all variants of third places.

There are quite a few articles online about the function of function of these spaces and a general consensus on key characteristics:

  • They must be free or relatively inexpensive to enter and to purchase food and drinks.
  • They must be highly accessible. Ideally one should be able to get there by foot from one’s home.
  • A number of people can be expected to be there on a daily basis.
  • All people should feel welcome. It should be easy to get into a conversation. A person who goes there should be able to find both old and new friends each time they visit.
  • Third places are not fancy, elaborate or pretentious establishments.

In essence third places are where people go to get away, be themselves and enjoy other people.

What third places exist in your community?

Image sources: Flickr/