Third Places

May 5, 2008 § Leave a comment

Here’s a nice quick interview with Ray Oldenburg, the original “third place” scholar, from a blog called Post-Car Culture.

While not exactly a buzzword, the phrase “third place” has been popping up recently in the media and in the blogosphere (is there a difference between the two anymore?), especially after Joe Starbuck started describing his myriad coffee shops as third places.

A “third place” is a place — besides home (first) or work (second) — where you regularly go for community. Third places come in all flavors: cafes, bars, book stores, churches, betting parlors, gyms, dog parks, bowling alleys, and on and on.

When I was a teenager, a popular third place was a desolate parking lot where we would go on summer evenings to do the things that teenagers like to do, but are not allowed to do in other less remote places (my wife grew up in a boonier area where a popular third place for teens was a cow field).

The gist of the theory is not that most people have three places in their lives; the point is that these days most people only have two places, home and work — they lack that third place. Like Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, Oldenbug’s book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts mourns the loss of a sense of community in modern life.

A response to this theory is that third places actually do exist these days, it’s just that they are online… blogs, second life, Facebook, MySpace, online games, etc. Virtual communities are becoming for some, the new third places.

And libraries… I love the notion of the library as a third place, then again I’m a librarian…  but I’m not the only librarian. Mr. Oldenburg makes no mention really of libraries as third places, but then again he doesn’t really talk about bookstores or salons as third places even though they are listed in the book’s subtitle.

When I was in college the library really was a third place of sorts — I usually ended up there on most nights, whether it was to do work or just hang out (then again again, I’m a librarian). But the public library where I live now… not so much. Mainly I go there, find what I want and then go.

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