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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One Response to Where (and How) Our Third Places Are

  1. Sun-Young Na

    I totally agree with your thoughts on the ‘Third Places’ especially your mention on “but they are being physically disintegrated”.
    I do have a weird feeling about calling Starbucks as third place. Because I don’t go there(Been there for a few times in my life) often and spend enough time do other things except getting a coffee. I wonder what ‘time’ plays as a critical role to define the Oldenberg’s definition of ‘third place’.

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