Third Place

“In sociology, the third place refers to the social surroundings that are separate from the two usual social environments of home (“first place”) and the workplace (“second place”). In his book The Great Good Place (1989), Ray Oldenburg argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.”

“Unlike a home or a workplace, a third place is a place where people are not required to be anything other than who they are. There is no pressure to be efficient, serious, productive, or successful. Rather, people can engage in activities that may be “just for fun”. In his article “The Third Place Thesis,” [Ray] Oldenburg suggests that third places are essential to the mental and social health of individuals, particularly those in urban settings.”

[Ray] Oldenburg (1989) outlines some of the specific characteristics of third places:
1) They are on neutral ground. All are welcome, and no one plays “host”;
2) They are a leveler; people of different socio-economic strata attend;
3) Conversation is the main activity. Even though the setting may be a place for drinking, or exercising, or playing a game, talking is always present;
4) They are accessible; there are no physical, policy, or monetary barriers to entrance;
5) They are a home away from home. There are “regulars” who find the atmosphere comfortable enough to “root” them there;
6) The mood is playful, laughter is often heard, and wit is prized.
Oldenburg believes that these are the essential characteristics of third places because they engender the unique communication experiences and sociological benefits associated with these places.
The benefits serve not only community residents but also the community at large.
For an individual, the third place offers stress relief from the everyday demands of both home and work.
It provides the feeling of inclusiveness and belonging associated with participating in a group’s social activities, without the rigidity of policy or exclusiveness of club or organization membership.
For the greater community, the third place strengthens community ties through social interaction. It can foster commitment to local politics via informed public discourse.
It also provides a feeling of safety and security by being publicly accessible and promoting open and visible interaction (Soukup 2006).
As Oldenburg himself states, ‘Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places.'”

“Third places have a number of important community-building attributes.
Depending on their location, social classes and backgrounds can be ‘leveled-out’ in ways that are unfortunately rare these days, with people feeling they are treated as social equals. Informal conversation is the main activity and most important linking function.
One commentator refers to third places as the “living room” of society.
Many city planning efforts to reinvigorate metropolitan neighborhoods now include specific steps to create third places, especially public spaces, to try and break down social siloes.
Strengthening social networks is a crucial step to reviving neighborhoods and addressing social problems. Third places can do much to help stabilize communities and reduce social problems.”

“‘A community life can exist when one can go daily to a given location at a given time and see many of the people one knows,’ writes another American sociologist, Philip Slater, author of a book on loneliness: [The Pursuit of Loneliness]
When a city has lovely spaces for people for people to stroll in, or loiter, or meet friends – and importantly for our senior citizens, when these places are close to home – then the requirement for one’s house to be large and nice enough for entertaining is lessened. And when you have places to meet your neighbours by chance, you can get to know them without the pressure of inviting them over.
[Ray] Oldenburg describes third places as neutral ground: no one has to play host and everyone is at ease. “If there is no neutral ground in the neighbourhoods where people live, association outside the home will be impoverished. Many, perhaps most, neighbours will never meet, to say nothing of associate, for there is no place for them to do so.”
Why is all of this important? Because a third of us said we were lonely in the 2014 census, and one in five of us will seek treatment this year for depression or anxiety. And because our cities aren’t bolstering one of the most significant aspects of mental health: a sense of community.
Yet we blame this lack of community upon ourselves – we haven’t tried hard enough to build it – when the problem is in fact the lack of a venue for this to take place.”