top of page

Third Places: Where we find community

When I was planning our Cocktails & Civil Rights event, I kept coming back to the theme of community. We know that community spaces are where many social movements start (like with coffee houses before/during the American Revolutionary War). But why do people gather in the first place? What are they looking for? What purpose does a community space serve? What makes a community space vs. just a normal place? And honestly, *asking for me* where ARE they?

To kick off our virtual Cocktails & Civil Rights exhibit (join as a member to get all the access), we are chatting about community spaces, also known as ...

Third Places

First Place is our home, Second Place is our work, and Third Place is where we find community

What are Third Places?

We all need a first place (home), and a second place (work), but do we all have a third place?

The Third Place is where people go to for community, discussion, and sharing of similar interests.

The term and concept of Third Places were defined by sociology professor Ray Oldenburg in the 1980s, but of course these community spaces have been a big part of human civilization throughout history.

In the past, Third Places have been places like town squares, churches, and community ovens. (We'll talk about this more later). Now these spaces are more frequently coffee shops, libraries, parks, bars, and even virtual shared worlds.

Graphic of quote over clinking drinks. "There are no strangers here; only friends you haven't yet met..." - William Butler Yeats

How are Third Places different?

Ray Oldenburg outlined eight key characteristics in how Third Places inform and prompt community building:

  1. Neutral ground -- Ability to come and go as you please with no obligation to host or facilitate another’s experience.

  2. Leveler -- An inclusive environment where everyone is of a similar social standing regardless of status outside in the greater community.

  3. Conversation -- Lively discussion is the main activity and primary draw for people.

  4. Accessibility and accommodation -- A space that makes people feel comfortable and is available to visit at almost any time of the day or night.

  5. Regulars -- Has a group of people who are often present and familiar with the space and each other.

  6. Low profile -- A space that is relatively plain, but is set up in such a way that enhances the community feel.

  7. Playful mood -- An atmosphere that connects regulars and sparks “the urge to return, recreate, and recapture the experience.”

  8. Home away from home -- People want to be in the Third Place because of the sense of belonging and community separate from the First Place (home) and Second Place (work).

Why are Third Places Important?

On May 3, 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General released an advisory about widespread loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection and its impact on mental and physical health. Without a third place for community, people can become isolated and lonely only shifting between home and work with no space to decompress and connect with others.

This was a significant issue even before the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly half of all Americans reporting loneliness and lack of social connection.

“Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders. Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected.” – U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy

The loneliness epidemic began with the rise of the suburbs. Social scientists argue that zoning laws decreased the number of local public spaces that were places for social connection. Places such as town squares and community ovens disappeared and were replaced by residential neighborhoods and shopping centers.

The result? Today, the majority of Third Places are sites of business first and community gathering second.

Let's see some examples...

While these well-known spaces from pop culture do act as Third Places for their fictional occupants, many of them are set up as places of business. This month as we learn more about Third Places in our member community, we'll be thinking about if you can truly have an accessible community in capitalist spaces.

Over the next several months, we are co-creating a virtual Cocktails & Civil Rights exhibit in The Round Table - Come join us!!!


Interested in learning more about food, history and culture? Sign up for our newsletter!


bottom of page