The concept of Third Place, is distinct from First and Second Places. A First Place is the private space of home. Second Places are where people spend significant time, often formally. These include schools, universities and workplaces.
Common examples of Third Places in cities include community gardens, libraries, public swimming pools, cafes, men’s or community sheds, farmers’ markets and dog parks.
How can Third Places create a sense of Community?
There is growing understanding of the negative outcomes and costs associated with loneliness. These include fractured communities, declining trust, stress, depression and disease. Clearly this is neither desirable nor sustainable. Third Places can help by creating or enhancing a sense of community on a smaller, more human scale. The village like feeling of Third Places can reduce people’s anxieties and make them more comfortable with trying a new social experience.
Third Place interactions encourage conversation in a homely atmosphere. Regulars who are local to the area often help with this. In Third Places, people are free to come and go without obligation. The status and backgrounds of users are largely irrelevant. These places are generally designed to be accessible, accommodating and inviting for all ages, low profile, comfortable and conversational. Third Places bring people together based on shared spaces, which become more important than individual histories. This can reduce wariness of strangers and create social connections. Third Places can lead to more resilient and better connected communities, building up social capital, while reducing loneliness.
Third Places are most effective when they encourage interactions between locals. Providing facilities and activities creates a purpose to interactions and reasons to start chatting.
Local councils can support citizen-led activities such as community gardens and community sheds.
Protecting existing third places is as important as providing new ones. For example, a local council may be tempted to allow housing to take over the site of a community garden. While there may some be reasons to support that idea, it should be carefully considered against the loss of social capital and the risk of en-trenching social isolation.
Valuing and promoting Third Places
We live in an age of urban mobility with no historical comparison. Many of us have been strangers in a new city. Loneliness is an unwelcome and growing feature of this urban mobility. Third Places offer a useful and tested model for reducing loneliness.
Yet many city dwellers see these spaces but don’t use them. In this sense, perhaps the biggest barrier is our willingness to make the time to seek out and participate in third places. For those people who do, banishing loneliness could be one of the greatest benefits.