Category Archives: Readings

Where (and How) Our Third Places Are

This post was written for our second class, but posted with discussion from class.

Oldenburg’s piece on Third Places is an interesting look at the historical concept of this neither home nor work environment. Starbucks is absolutely the most famous example of commercializing third place that exists, but he focuses more on locality, with a litany of rules (or at least guidelines) on what makes them viable, and what makes them strong or substantial. A couple of thoughts I had on the matter:

  • The idea that this third place even needs to be physical doesn’t bode well for me. Slack, Facebook, even the XOXO conference I attended last weekend don’t necessarily exist in person (or in person alone). It’s a little dangerous to conflate place with community, since even those have relations and can be different, but these are things that do support each other. It’s more an insight into the nature of when this was written, nearly 20 years ago, when online communities were in such infancy that it would be difficult to assess.
  • I also disagreed with the general assessment that a third place must be public—but perhaps it’s because of the way I interpret public. For me, public is not the necessary barrier to third place—that it is open to the possibility of anyone but not necessarily bereft of the barrier of entry. At the same time, it bums me out that these places are described as “commercial establishments,” since it unnecessarily caps the ways in which spaces can transform to commercial transactions alone.

As part of discussion in class, we teased out more the fine distinction between a space and a place, where we mostly came to a common understanding: a place is a space that is defined by a person, which inherently makes it subjective, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. I think you need that kind of subjectivity to help the community actually derive its own acceptance of it and to spread that context.

Ultimately, there is a lot to debate about the third place as it exists in modern society, but my strongest stance is not that they are going away, but they are being physically disintegrated. Whether or not that is beneficial is a different kind of argument.

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Being There

This week is the fourth annual XOXO festival in Portland, Oregon. I attended the first two, and I remember the acute and profound feeling that I had finally found my tribe. The feeling that I was surrounded, for the first time, by people who shared my priorities and nerdy interests and goals and experiences and references. They’re my people! People from the internet!

XOXO is a strong reminder that our third spaces have hardly evaporated. No, we’re not unsocialized beasts, lost in the meaningless glow of our wretched devices. On the contrary — our needs to socialize are as strong as ever. We’ve just found different ways to satisfy those needs.

The paradox of the public commons is a fascinating one. I think of it every time I’m in an elevator, a Faraday cage with no cell service, yet every single rider is tapping and scrolling meaninglessly on their phones. Oldenburg’s rosy town halls, markets and taverns are often filled with people acting the same way. We have a lot of mediated experiences, and we don’t always look up.

And yet. When we look down at those devices, we find the richest, most accessible “third space” in history. Oldenburg’s piece, published twenty years ago, marks a cultural inflection point that is only truly being appreciated now.

I write often on the importance of physical spaces, and intend to focus my thesis on using technology to facilitate social interaction in the real world. But I’m beginning to more fully appreciate how blurry the lines between the physical and the virtual have become. How our public commons exists not to facilitate relationships between you and the six people who look a lot like you and share your background and sit at your neighborhood watering hole, but instead you and the vastly more diverse audience whose tweets you star and instagram posts you heart.

So. I see the acute need Oldenburg speaks of. I see the need to share our spaces, physical and virtual, and the deep need to be better to one another. But I don’t see a dearth of opportunities for connection. On the contrary, I see my public commons on Twitter. I see the “tonic” of “neutral ground” playing out on Metafilter, on Reddit. And I see endless opportunity to bridge these spaces with real-world meetups.

As I mentioned in my IxD pecha kucha, speaking of desire paths and workarounds, life finds a way. John Gilmore famously wrote that “the net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” I view it as similarly routing around the infrastructural limitations brought on by the suburban sprawl that Oldenburg rightly rejects.


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Thoughts on “Our Vanishing Third Places” – Anupma

Ray Oldenburg’s article on “Our Vanishing Third Places” in some ways took me back in time. In the article, he says home is our first place, work is our second place, and third places are an escape from both.  He describes them as “informal public gathering places” where people can “gather easily, inexpensively, regularly, and pleasurably” close to home.

It made me re-look at the places I’ve spent most years of my life so far. First,my parent’s home where I grew up, then the place I moved in with a friend after finishing college and then our home now in NY. Interestingly, when i think of these places now it’s not the physical space that occurs to me first but, the time, the people, the memories and how well these places fit in with the stages of life. Oldenburg’s concept of third places holds very different meanings for each of these places.

In the years growing up, our patio, neighborhood streets, parks, and shops were the primary places of social interactions. It all centered around children(me, too back then) playing and their parents & grandparents conversing and sharing their lives at the same place. In my 20’s when I started working and moved to a different city, these third place interactions shifted to coffee shops, restaurants, or a friend’s home. Neighborhood common space like parks or interacting with neighbors wasn’t something that resonated with our lifestyles & schedules. There was a shift, it wasn’t anymore about the neighborhood/ community but friends and a convenient location that provided a comfortable space to talk to each other. I’m not sure if these places even qualify the author’s definition of ‘third places’ considering that these were often not close to home and didn’t involve people from the neighborhood community.

When I moved to NY last year the unfamiliarity of the place, it’s people, my own life and lack of friends and family took a toll on my spirit. I found myself lost in the pace and loneliness of the city. The only thing that connected with me strongly was my home and it’s neighborhood. That pace and life was something I could relate to. It gave me solace, just sitting in the park or the waterfront and seeing people take their dogs for a walk or seeing them walk with friends and family gave me a sense of comfort and belongingness for this place. These places, outside the comforts of my home,  filled in the void that I was experiencing with the shift. They gave me a chance to see, smile and sometimes interact and become friends with people I once didn’t know, in a community that was once new and unfamiliar to me. In many ways these “Third Places” made me feel ‘home’ yet again. 



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Thoughts on “Third Places”, Emily

Ray Oldenburg describes “third places” as an informal gathering space for the people in a neighborhood. He argues that the need for these places are “important both to individuals and to the communities they live in.” Most of his points claim that these “third places” help grow the neighborhood into a closer, more caring community.

Growing up in the city, I wasn’t sure if I ever had a “third place.” While reading the article, I couldn’t help but think of all the TV shows I watch where families live in the suburbs and everyone knows each other whether in coffee shops or supermarkets. In a city like New York, I never got the chance to experience that. When I was young, my parents would never let me play on the streets, fearing that someone may come around and take me. The doors to the house would always be locked even though I was right outside the house, fearing that someone would break in. Bars would always be installed in all the windows, even if the building were three stories high. Therefore, the idea of a “third place” is not part of my lifestyle and I don’t seem to long for it as much as the author claims I should.

There were some points that Oldenburg made that could be up for debate.

Third places also serve as ‘ports of entry’ for visitors and newcomers to the neighborhood where directions and other information can easily be obtained.”  Not sure if it’s a culture reason or a “just being a typical New Yorker reason” but I have learned to take everything I encounter with skepticism. If someone starts a conversation with me randomly, my imminent thought is that they want something from me or else they wouldn’t be taking their time out to ask me how I am today. Visitors and newcomers can also obtain a vast amount of information about certain neighborhoods by searching on the web. Even before they arrive to the area, they would’ve read all about it in some blog or forum. I’m not arguing that the author is wrong about information being easily obtained, it could be true. But in a place like New York City where the area is always changing and people are always moving in and out of neighborhoods, it is hard to say that this “third place” can serve as much of a guidance for them..

“Third places help unify the neighborhood”.  The descriptions to these statements were rather vague. The author argues that people who live in the same vicinity often fail to know their neighbors because there was an absence of third places. In the few neighborhoods I’ve lived in, even with the presence of what might be considered a “third place” people would still not take the time out to know each other. The time that could be taken to spent in a local deli or pizzeria can be spent at home with loved ones.

My views of a tight knit neighborhood community is not present therefore my views could be biased. The author makes a good case of argument as to why a “third place” is always important in the neighborhood, but I just can’t see it fitting in a metro city, or in my life in general. All in all, I believe that caring for your neighborhood and knowing your surroundings is important, but is knowing what the neighborhood kids and families are up to important to my life? (Very selfish question, I know.)


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Thoughts on Our Vanishing “Third Places”

In Ray Oldenburg’s article,  informal public gathering places are defined as our third places. When people live in metropolis, it seems obvious to distinguish personal residential and public places because we mainly live individually with less connections between neighborhood than suburb life. Throughout the whole article, I was thinking how did the “vanishing” word come out, since third places are everywhere. The question still exists in my mind, but I want to describe some thoughts based on my living environment in Beijing.

I was born on 90s and when I was young, I lived in a large yard with my parents. The large yard had several families, each family lived in their own house. Generally, there was no bathroom in the house, so either people live in the same yard built one or two and shared it or they went the public bathroom outside the yard.  Yards were lined together on two sides and made up with an alley which we call Hutong in China. During my time in the yard, I felt that neighbors did connect to each other well. Even though we didn’t stick together a lot like having parties a lot, it was common to see children play together and families helped mutually. There were groceries, hardware stores and diners in alleys, usually people who operated these places  also lived in the same alley which means a person was able to recognize most of people lived surrounded you most of time.

As Beijing grew as a more modern city, many alleys were dismantled and people moved to apartment buildings. Old neighborhood life nearly disappeared and this culture became history in books and memories. When my family moved to an apartment, we no longer had much touch with neighbors, neither others lived in apartment did. My parents even thought they weren’t our neighbors, they were just people who lived in the same building. Several buildings made a residential area with a name. At that time, third places were more like places between home and work places where we might pass everyday or went there for reasons. Before that, I mean when I lived in the yard, our yard could be the third place and people get together not only physically but also emotionally.

We all know nowadays the price of owning a house in China is still unbelievably increasing, besides of the vast amount of need, locating a residential area with existed or potential public facilities as many as possible also contributes to rising price. All people intend to live with nice neighbors and easily-reaching public places. Those old residential areas such as where I moved the first time also improved community services. However, these services were mostly for caring older adults, so some third places were built for gathering our grandparents to alleviate their loneliness at home.

From Oldenburg’s opinions, I agree with some benefits of third places that third places create convenience, entertainment and carefulness for residents. But for me most third places are too functional to make more emotional interaction with people there, and neighborhood bonding remains weak no matter I was in Beijing or in NYC. Is it a kind of vanishing?


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How do we “grow” more third places?

Oldenburg has many points about “third places” – namely, that they are necessary for community and individual well-being, that we are witnessing a decline of them, and that city planners ought to do everything they can to encourage the organic growth of these places.

While most of these points are relatively obvious and mundane, I found one of Oldenburg’s recommendation to city planners on how to do the latter most interesting: He suggests to city planners that one way to encourage the existence of “third places” is to make cities more “walkable.” He doesn’t spend too much time on this point (just one sentence, in fact), but I think this point, out of many of his points, is one around which there can and should be more discussion.

For example: How exactly can we make cities more “walkable”? Or, perhaps more specifically, how can we take into account the character, geography, layout, and culture of an existing city and make it more “walkable”? What is the relationship between the “walkability” of a city and…

  • …its density? (i.e. Does a denser city have an easier time of “growing” – for lack of a better term – third places?)
  • …its public transportation system (if there is one)? (i.e. Does public transportation affect a city’s walkability at all? Or is it irrelevant because the idea is that people won’t need to use public transportation to reach third places?)
  • …its culture? (i.e. Do some cultures lend themselves to third places more than other cultures? How do we pinpoint these kinds of cultural attributes? And, conversely, how might we encourage these kinds of cultural attributes through the existence of third places? An obvious one might be food.)
  • …its level of geographical racial/class segregation? (i.e. Shouldn’t we to aim most to encourage third places where they might serve a secondary purpose of counteracting racial/class segregation?)
  • …its topography? (e.g. Where might third places make the most sense in neighborhoods that are hilly? In seaside neighborhoods? In neighborhoods near a lake? Or a forest? Neighborhoods on a mountain?)
  • …its financial stability and wealth? (i.e. Does greater wealth correspond to more third places, or is it the inverse?)
  • …etc

Another of Oldenburg’s points that I think leaves room for more discussion is his observation that third places tend to independently-owned, rather than corporate chains. His observation may be true, but I think there is room for more nuance here. I would posit that the nature of ownership of a particular establishment is only one of many aspects that affects the degree to which a third place benefits the community. Other factors that I think are as important (if not more important, in some cases) might be:

  • What the establishment sells, i.e. food? arcade games? hookah?. For obvious reasons, this greatly affects who the clientele are, and, as a result, affects the effectiveness of the establishment to bring together the diverse crowds that Oldenburg describes.
  • Price range. This is important in determining the accessibility of an establishment. It’s likely that establishments that are more affordable to the general public will serve as more effective third places.
  • The culture / atmosphere of the establishment. This atmosphere can be created by the owners of the establishment (regardless of whether its a chain or independently owned), but it’s likely that one that is warm, inclusive, and relaxed is more likely to be an effective third place.

Oldenburg’s article does a great job of making the case for more third places to exist. Many of his points are straightforward, and it’s great conversation starter. Now let’s move the conversation forward.


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Jess’ Thoughts on “Third Places”

After reading Ray Oldenberg’s article on “Third Places,” I reflected on my time in Suburbia. I spent most of my teen years in Connecticut, which I often tell people is a giant suburb of New York City, Boston, and Providence. It could be a case study for Oldenberg. The towns, expansive and sprawling, are meant more as getaways from the bustle of city life than places to spend time chatting with neighbors. Still, many people do not commute, certainly not teenagers who are oft at the mercy of their parents schedules. This got me thinking. Even though there was no real place for teenagers to commune in our town, these kids would make their own “Third Place.” They called it “The Center,” referring to the center of town, but really it was just the grocery store parking lot. An empty space that was free – both cost wise and from the overbearing eyes of authority – that was easily accessible from all parts of town, and with the knowledge that someone would always be there to hang out with. If the police came and told them to move along, they would simply hop in a car and move their third place elsewhere.


I imagine a lot of people who find themselves in similar situations do the same thing. If there isn’t a local pub or coffee house to use, then they will create a space of their own. It may not be a physical space with four walls. It might be the sideline of their kids’ soccer games, a transitional space – somewhere where the public and private spaces meet, such as a sidewalk – or it could even be online. With the emersion of social media, we are trying to reclaim our third places. Now we can enjoy the company of our fellow man without the bothersome task of holding up our end of the conversation or buying overpriced pints. This also gives us the benefit or reaching beyond our small town. Now we can keep up with our Great Aunt who lives across the country or find the other six people who are interested in our unique hobby. We can form communities beyond the places we live and work.


I would not argue that this is a better lifestyle than meeting your friends and neighbors at the local diner, but rather point out that we will never be completely free of the third places. It is in our nature to be social creatures and to find our brethren. If we are zoned out of our favorite local spot, then we will switch locations. You do not have to limit yourself to the confines of a structure. Modern men and women can be fluid and mobile in their approach to finding their own “Third Place.”


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Thoughts on “Third Places”, Jung-Joon

Because I lived in Korea for almost all my life, I assume that I could say something about Korean third places. Similar to the U.S., Third Places have decreased continuously in Korea as well. When I was a child, most towns had several playgrounds and facilities for resident gatherings. However, as a price of lands got increased, builders had to sell more houses within limited areas. So, they made more residences only instead of building Third Places. As a result, the locals rarely had meetings and even lived without knowing people next door. In addition, modern people tend to be more busy and individualistic in comparison with past decades. Therefore, they spend more time in First and Second Places and particularly most young people have no intention to go to Third Places.

However, some locals still want to share information and promote friendship; it is usually done by online. I can see lots of local communities on the Internet and there are sizable members. So, as of now, I think Third Places are moved to a cyberspace. They do share information and make friends on the Internet likewise our seniors did in Third Places. Furthermore, some members of an online community are likely to meet in person when they become close.

To sum up, I think the number of Third Places is getting decreased and it seems that Third Places could not go against the trend. However, people keep sharing information one another as ever and the biggest difference between past and present might be an interface in which they use.


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Thoughts on Our Vanishing “Third Places” – Ashley

This article mainly talks about the definition and the importance of “Third places”. Oldenburg mentioned that our home is the “first” place in our lives, and our work places are the “second”, some other informal public gathering places are the “third”.

In the past, people can know each other more easily than nowadays, because they all lived together. With the development of the modern society, people became independent. They chose to live separately and tended to enjoy more private space. Communication and connection between individuals were less than before. So they went to “third places” to know each other and share some information.

I would like to cite my own example. I was born in a very small coastal city which is also a naval port. When I was a kid, I repeated very simple home-to-school-and-back-again shuttle life every day, having little interaction with public places and new people.  Therefore, I don’t have much personal experience about “third places” before. After I went to college, I started to know more about “third places”. It did bring my friends and me more close to each other and at these places I got to make new friends more easily. In my leisure time, I could hang out with my friends at places such as restaurants and bars. From our conversations I was able to learn something that I wouldn’t know otherwise. I was excited about and eager for such discussions and my life was enriched a lot.

Maybe with the rapid development of the technology, some tangible “third places” are vanishing. Instead, a variety of new platforms such as forums and online groups are emerging. For the most people these new methods are feasible. However, they are unpractical for some minority groups without corresponding devices or knowledge. Personally speaking, I prefer the face-to-face communication with others in real life for the reason that online interaction only provides limited interactive modes, making it totally different from the conventional interaction. Having face-to-face communication enables people to sense the real emotions under different circumstances so that they can respond directly and promptly, which is usually unavailable when chatting online. The advantage of network gives us another option today, that we organize offline activities at “third places” and expose the related information online to inform people. For instance, I always seek online for some events that interest me and then participate in them. This combination not only makes it possible to spread information widely and efficiently, but also gives people direct communication facing each other.

After reading this article, I start thinking that we have the chance to find a new way for people to communicate and interact better under the tendency towards more developed society.


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Thoughts on Third Places

As a person who spent most of times growing up in the city, Oldenberg’s article made to reflect what my ‘Third Places’ were. I lived my two thirds of my life(Born & Raised and worked in my mid 20’s to early 30’s) in Seoul, Korea and one third(High School & College, and currently for my MFA’s) in New York City.

During my time before I came to NY, I had no memory or experience of third place. My mother who was very passionate on our education designed my childhood in a way that I only could commute between home and school.

What I remember as my first third place was the pizza place which was located on the way to the subway station in Astoria(Ditmars Blvd stop) during high school. With a group of my friends, it was the place to go after school, do gossiping or sometimes talking about our uncertain future, dreams over a slice of pizza. There were enough spaces for older adults who hangout there watching tv or doing cross puzzle, children who play video games arcade. The place would throw a party once in a while so people in neighborhood come and chat about business, stores, family, etc. As fresh off the boat, my family never actively participated or engaged in conversation with the whole community but with the people at regular grocery places or church. Those places were usually where we get the information on discount deals, tutor jobs, reputation of schools, good plumber, rental and so on. This was the closest feeling of local community that I had and was in the end of 90’s.

Another thought came cross my mind was the use of online community as new space and platform for third place. As technology develops, our culture has changed so much – thanks to internet. We often search, use, create, or join any website or service for our personal interests. The famous services such as Facebook, Instagram, Meetup, Tinder, Reddit, and many others offer people to communicate, to discuss, and to connect each other. Often these online services lead to offline space for people to their needs.

However, the problem rises in present days that older adults have more difficulties to adopt this new technology and gadget compared to younger generations. Also, there are still many people whether they resides in the city or suburban area enjoy physical space for gathering or spending time with locals. As a designer, designing the better online community system would be designing the ‘architecture’ of third place. We already tried in Entrepreneurial Design class for designing community, some succeeded and some failed. We learned that it is not easy to design this community. I think that no matter how fancy or complicated technology is available, it will be no good use if the service is not in use or difficult to use.



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