The Third Place: The What and the How

Throughout history, the third place has been the breeding ground for new ideologies with immense political repercussions. Coffeehouses and salons during the Enlightenment provided safe and accessible spaces for intellectual conversation. Such locations helped spread revolutionary ideas from philosophers like John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, and Immanuel Kant, leading to the birth of American democracy as we know it today.

However, suburbanization has led to the decline of these spaces, with more and more people noticing the need for third places ever since sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term in the late twentieth century. Now, the concept of the third place is growing in popularity, but what does something need to be to be a third place? Here are some essential characteristics of third places that allow for the bonding and feeling of community that keep us from feeling lonely. 

  1. Neutral ground: For a third place to be functional, it has to stand on neutral ground outside of the spheres of influence of both the home and the workplace. 
  2. Leveling place: A third place is distinct from the workplace and home, where hierarchies are essential for the spheres to function. However, such systems can prevent enjoyable conversations and create unneeded rivalries that restrict community building. The third place, therefore, must find a way to level the playing field for all its users and set them on equal footing, allowing them to converse freely and organically with each other and form casual bonds that prevent loneliness.
  3. Conversation space: A third place has to be one where conversations can blossom without being restricted by hierarchies, structures, or rules. The more people get to talk to each other, the easier it will be for them to create friendships and feel like part of a community.
  4. Open and accessible: When a location is more open and accessible, it’s more appealing. As such, people frequent these locations more often, making them ideal locations for meeting and forming bonds with more people. The third place is also a location to get a break from events in both the home and the workplace — if it isn’t open and accessible, this part of its function becomes more difficult. 
  5. Regulars: Regulars help give third places some benefits as communal spaces where people get to form bonds and build relationships. Regular visitors allow newcomers to make new friends they will see often, leading to long-lasting casual friendships that ease loneliness. However, third places should still welcome newcomers so that they can fit the criteria of being open and accessible, allowing new people to partake in the friendships already existing between regulars.
  6. Playful mood: When locations have strict rules, structures, and tasks to accomplish, they create stress and increase negativity in the environment, leading to less casual interactions. Third places with more playful moods tend to allow more relaxed, stress-free locations that encourage users to leave behind work stress and partake in some fun.

Works Cited

Marcela Cabello, Stuart M. Butler, et al. “‘Third Places’ as Community Builders.” Brookings, 13 July 2023, Accessed 07 Nov. 2023.

“Third Places, True Citizen Spaces.” Ray Oldenburg & Karen Christensen: Third Places, True Citizen Spaces | The UNESCO Courier, Accessed 07 Nov. 2023.

“Ray Oldenburg.” RSS, Accessed 07 Nov. 2023.