The Third Place

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name *

 cheers-bar-regulars

Belonging

I was talking with a friend this week about the importance of kids being part of a team. We agreed that the type of team – sporting or debating team, an acting group, a self initiated ‘detective club’, or something completely different – didn’t seem to matter. Just being ‘part’ of something is very important to many kids – in fact, often more important than the activity itself.

This, of course, can cause other difficulties – exclusion, putting kids into boxes, or competitiveness when they are too young to see ‘doing your best’ is more important than ‘winning’. However, it speaks to the importance of ‘belonging’.

My friend’s daughter felt the song from the Lego Movie captured this well:

Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team‘. (which, even if you have heard this song played repeatedly, is kind of true).

Of course, the need to belong doesn’t apply only to kids – I think it’s something almost all (if not all) of us crave. In that context, I mentioned to her the idea of the ‘Third Place’, an idea she was not familiar with, so I shared it with her (and now with you).

Third Place

The idea of Third Place is an urban planning / community development concept (yes, I finally get to bring some planning into my blog). Ray Oldenburg (1989) is credited with coming up with the term ‘Third Place, and defining it. He didn’t invent it, however – it’s been around since forever (in fact, he identified it in part because he was dismayed at its demise).

The idea is that, in addition to our home (domestic life), and workplace (which also includes schools and volunteer work – where you put in effort and are ‘paid’ – financially or otherwise, in return), people need a ‘third place’.

thirdplaceA third place is somewhere:

  • you can go to, knowing some people and / or knowing you will be welcome
  • doesn’t cost too much (or anything)
  • you can participate, but don’t need to contribute to the same level as you do at home or work.
  • you can be creative (if you chose) – in other words, where you can ‘play’.

In planning speak, these places ‘are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction’. So they are fairly important!

Ray Oldenburg defines them as this:

“What suburbia cries for are the means for people to gather easily, inexpensively, regularly, and pleasurably — a ‘place on the corner,’ real life alternatives to television, easy escapes from the cabin fever of marriage and family life that do not necessitate getting into an automobile.”

In the past, we may have considered these to be places where everyone went (or at least, everyone we knew). So in my social circles growing up, these places included:

  • the local tennis club,
  • scouts and guides, and
  • church
  • the shops (hanging around there)
  • from time to time, locations would pop up for a while, including daytime nightclubs (which seems like a contradiction in terms – I can’t remember what they were called, but they were not blue light discos. No way!)

But it also included some great parks and semi-natural open space (ie. where there were still places to make cubby houses, ride your bike over self made jumps, and so on).

For parents, golf clubs, favourite ‘bistros’ (whatever happened to these?), and church still – and cafes started becoming popular meeting places too. And from this, you get an idea of my background.

For others, it may have been the local pub, surf beaches, sailing venues, the skate park, hanging around the fish and chip shop. Whatever and wherever it was, you were welcome to be there.

So enough of the planning talk … why is this important?

I think that these places are still really important today, but their form might have changed. Some of the reasons for this could be:

  • People tend to change work more frequently, and work in more varied arrangements than ‘a work place’ with others, than they may have in the past. This means the long term security and workplace relationships is not as strong across the board. Alternatives places for belonging become even more important.
  • The types of ‘third places’ have probably changed – institutions such as churches, organisations such as Rotary and Lions, and longevity within sporting clubs (with whole families being involved), are less of the norm – and I suspect the length of time people on average are involved has shrunk.
  • The types of activities kids are involved in are often less free-range than in the past, and in many cases, are more expensive. This change can serve then to increase obligations and expectations on those ‘in charge’, mean they are less a place of ‘play’ and may be more exclusive, with some families missing out.

So, while the older groups generally still exist, some Third Places might also now include:

  • A local café, as an informal work location, for instance (many a meeting has been held in venues close to work), or a bar that becomes a regular meeting place for friends.
  • Playgrounds where parents take their kids regularly can be places where strong friendships are formed.
  • ‘Dog parks’ like those near us – I love seeing how many owners appear at the same time each week, chatting away to other dog lovers as their pets also have a great time together.
  • Membership of cheer squads and support groups, which may include only a small proportion of people, but often a noisy one (Barmy Army, anyone?)
  • The bootcamps, cycling clubs and shopping centre walking groups that have been popping up over the past decade or so.
  • ‘Men’s sheds’ which have been set up in many places across Australia. They provide a venue for (generally) older men to get together with a purpose. During the process of making or fixing things, friendships are made, and belonging takes place. Community gardens can serve similar purposes.

I wonder whether this ‘third place’ need to actually be located in a space? Do social media networks – facebook groups, for instance, or blogs themselves, form a new(ish) type of ‘third place’? Does it form the same role or can people disappear from these groups too easily? I think, from seeing how many times the word ‘regular’ appears in my descriptions above, that it can – and that’s why ‘finding your tribe’, ‘link-ups’ and the like are so important. 

And for me in particular …

In writing this, it has made me wonder whether you (or I) can spread ourselves too thinly to actually have a third place. In my case, if I am a member of a couple of book-clubs, a parent joining in the running and social activities of various sporting and school activities, part of church and fellowship groups, a sports training group, and so on, am I frequent enough in my contact with those in the groups to feel that ‘belonging’? Or do you need the almost daily attendance that those in Cheers had at Cheers Bar for ‘everyone to know your name and be always glad you came?’

I think, in writing this, that it is the regularity of meeting, rather than the frequency as such. It’s the reliability that, while everyone might not always be there, there will always be some friends. And that can be comforting – we all do need to feel that belonging, to be part of a team. It’s an awesome feeling!

What about you? Do you have somewhere that you feel is your ‘Third Place’? How do you think we do provide for people’s need to belong nowadays?

* Yes, I know ‘Cheers’ hasn’t aired for about the last three decades. But Cheers is the ‘go to’ reference for Third Place theory, so it was pretty appropriate. Once I get my Kenny Rogers ‘The Gambler’ post out of the way (for those who noticed the out of place image in last week’s badly formatted post, I’ll move right up to date – promise!)

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5 thoughts on “The Third Place

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever had a “third place”… abd to be honest, my second place (work) isn’t that important to me – it’s just somewhere I earn a living…

    The only important place for me is home, and if I didn’t have to work, that would be it for me… probably something to do with being a happy introvert… all I need is a first place… 🙂

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  2. Thanks John – yes, I’m guessing the need for chatting isn’t as strong (I’m a bit of a mix – I definitely need time to myself but I also feel a little isolated without ongoing interaction with friends and family). I wondered if the online community forms a sort of third place – you are very active on it! And of course, these theories don’t work for everyone 🙂

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  3. This is a fantastic post and love the third place. We are part of a couple of sporting clubs with our kids but recently we have a joined a new club which combine netball, basketball, football and cricket – so both boys and girls are a part and therefore a real family environment.

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    1. Thanks for your comments Natalie – and glad the idea of the third place made sense! Your new club sounds great (I’ve got a boy and a girl, and so love to hear when you can find something that works for all of you). And I see you are a Richmond supporter – hopefully this will be our year (and I’ll be back on the bandwagon!)

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