The Third Place

The Third Place is a term coined by Professor Ray Oldenburg back in 1989. He describes the importance of informal gathering places such as bars and coffee shops that allow you to escape from your two usual environments. Your two usual environments are your home (the first place) and your office (the second place).

As a way to skip the process of rewording what’s already been said, here is an excerpt from the wikipedia article on Oldenburg’s writings:

Oldenburg calls one’s “first place” the home and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs. Oldenburg suggests these hallmarks of a true “third place”: free or inexpensive; food and drink, while not essential, are important; highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance); involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there; welcoming and comfortable; both new friends and old should be found there.

The beauty of Third Places are that they are public spaces for informal social gatherings, such as coffee shops, bars, and parks.

  • Public – (Almost) Everybody is welcome. The beauty is that it allows interaction between people of different backgrounds. During a walk through a park, you wouldn’t be surprised to interact with liberals, conservatives, kids, adults, accountants, rock stars, tourists, or scientists, whether it be simply smiling at them or actually engaging in conversation.
  • Space – Any social gathering requires a setting. There is usually a “host” to any third place. At a bar, it would be the bar owner, manager, and bartenders. At a public park or beach, the host is your government. The host often provides a lot to and has a lot of control over the space. More recently, we see a lot of social interaction on the internet; an interesting topic to discuss is social networking sites as Third Places and the power of the host.
  • For – In this case, this word is used to indicate purpose of both the host and the guest. What kind of space and environment does the host intend to create? What is the mindset of the guests in the space?
  • Informal – By definition, this is referring to the absence of formality. This can create a sense of neutrality between two people that may not exist in another setting. In your office, it could be a taboo for you to walk up to the CEO of your company and discuss with him your opinion on this year’s football season, but if you happened to sit next to him at a bar, that conversation suddenly becomes (more) acceptable.
  • Social – The Third Place concept puts a lot of emphasis on the interaction between people. It is a study of sociology, which is using “various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop and refine a body of knowledge about human social activity, often with the goal of applying such knowledge to the pursuit of social welfare” (Source: Wikipedia). This knowledge can also be applied to business decisions such as by marketers or business owners who host third places.
  • Gatherings – Not one, but many gatherings. You must look at the culmination of the many gatherings that change constantly over time both in size and numbers. Each interaction, no matter the duration or importance, is a gathering.

I am not writing about the Third Place concept because I believe that bars are more important to you than your home or office.

I am not writing about the Third Place concept because I believe that third places are distinct from your home and office. Nor do I believe that they should be.

I am not writing about the Third Place because I want to argue for or against anybody. The writing of this blog is part of my research process. I hope to find a thesis someday, or do I?

I am writing about the Third Place concept because it’s an interesting way to look at our lives and society. Live, work, and play is only one way of categorizing your mindset, it’s neither right nor wrong. But when you apply these categories to your observations about human interaction and physical location, you might notice something you didn’t before. That’s all I’m saying.

You live at home, work at the office, but where do you play?

For sake of full disclosure, I’d like to share that I have not read either of Professor Oldenburg’s books on this subject which are The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community and Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories About the “Great Good Places” at the Heart of Our Community. I hope to read these books soon, and I will share my thoughts along the way.

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