The other day, my son was watching a YouTube presentation on third places. Apparently, a third place is the place that is not your home or work, but is the place that facilitates and fosters broader, more creative community interaction.
The term was coined by Ray Oldenburg, an American sociologist who wrote about third places in his books, Celebrating The Third Place and The Great Good Place. Oldenburg’s writing underscored the importance of informal public gathering places for a functioning civil society, democracy, and civic engagement.
For many of us, this is the monthly plant exchange. According to Oldenburg, multiple elements must be present in a third place. These are:
- Neutral Ground: A third place should be a neutral and welcoming environment where people from various backgrounds and demographics feel comfortable. It shouldn’t be associated with any particular group or ideology.
- Accessibility: The location of the third place should be easily accessible to a diverse range of people. It should be centrally located or in a convenient spot that’s easily reachable.
- Regulars and Newcomers: A successful third place attracts both regular visitors and newcomers. This mix of familiarity and new interactions contributes to a sense of community.
- Conversation: Third places encourage conversations and discussions among patrons. The atmosphere should be conducive to casual conversations and interactions between people who may not know each other well.
- Low Barriers: There should be low financial, social, or cultural barriers to entry. This means that people from different economic backgrounds and walks of life can participate without feeling excluded.
- Comfortable and Informal Setting: The physical environment should be comfortable and inviting, often with a focus on providing seating that encourages relaxation and extended stays.
- Ample Time: People should be able to spend extended periods of time in a third place without feeling rushed. It’s a space where people can linger, read, work, or chat without being pressured to leave.
- Regular Hours: Consistency in opening hours is important for a third place. People should know when it’s open and can rely on its availability.
- Supportive Staff: Friendly and attentive staff contribute to the atmosphere. Staff should be welcoming and help maintain the positive social dynamics of the space.
- Minimal Commercial Pressure: While some third places may serve food and beverages, they should not primarily exist to sell products. The focus should be on providing a space for socializing rather than generating profit.
- Sense of Ownership: Regular patrons should feel a sense of ownership and belonging in the third place. This can lead to a stronger community and a sense of responsibility for maintaining the positive environment.
- Variety of Activities: Third places can offer a variety of activities that cater to different interests, such as games, music, or workshops. This adds to the appeal and draws in a diverse crowd.
- Local Character: A third place often reflects the local culture and character of the community it serves. This authenticity makes it more meaningful to the people who frequent it.
- Flexibility: The space should be adaptable to different needs and preferences. It can accommodate both lively group interactions and quieter moments.
- Inclusivity: A successful third place is inclusive and promotes diversity, making everyone feel welcome regardless of age, background, or other factors.
- Positive Atmosphere: The overall atmosphere should be positive, fostering a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect among patrons.
Among plant swap regulars, we’ve attempted to coin a phrase to encapsulate the high we get from second Tuesday swaps, but none of them fully explain the feeling.
Maybe it is the sanctuary it provides that defines the plant swap. Neutral ground and positive atmosphere are critical elements that are deeply needed in what seems a growing divide among us these days. In any case, this notion of third place is new to me, and I’m going to look into Oldenburg’s writing further.