What is a Third Place?

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Joanne Dolley blogs on third places, it’s meaning and sheds thought on how we can help and improve our third places.

How many people do you know in your neighbourhood – say, on waving terms? Perhaps you are new to your neighbourhood. In the past five years in Australia, over 80% of rental tenants and a quarter of Australian home owners have moved location at least once. Research shows that with each move, social capital may be broken and people feel less connected to place. Third places can help alleviate some of the social isolation that people feel in cities.

First place is home. Second place is work, study or your volunteering job. Third places are informal public places where you can relax and informally meet people in your neighbourhood. Professor Ray Oldenburg came up with this idea in the late 1980s. He thought life in the USA had become a shuffle between home and work. He noticed in his new housing estate that there were no corner stores, local bars, cafes, public libraries – places where he could chat with locals from all walks of life and feel a part of the place where he lived.

Third places are levellers which means anyone is welcome – inclusive of diversity across age, gender, disability, ethnic background, or wealth (or lack of).  They are low key places – like homes away from home. They are accessible which means they are walking distance or a bike ride to those who visit. They have regulars (Jane Jacobs would call them – ‘characters’) who help to introduce people to the place and to each other. Third places promote conversation and often involve an activity such as pool in the pub or boules in the park that act as a conversation starter. Third places are neutral in that they involve a number and variety of local people, as there are no substantial obligations, club rules, dress standards, or fees. Third places benefit our neighbourhoods by connecting us to the place where we live and to each other.

How can we help create and sustain third places? One suggestion is that we spend some time in our neighbourhoods, look up from our busy days and connect with people.

Dolley Rethinking

Rethinking Third Places

Edited by Joanne Dolley and Caryl Bosman, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia

Read Chapter 1: Rethinking third places and community building free on Elgaronline

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