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Third Spaces: A "Great Good Place" outside of Work and Home

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

Despite how deeply Tam has embraced hygge, she longs for a change of scene. After months bundled up in my apartment, I'm finally feeling the springtime pull to get out. It’s with this new energy that I've been reflecting on the need for third spaces, especially after the pandemic.

What is a third space? According to Ray Oldenburg, an urban sociologist, our first space is our home, our second is work, and the third is public space. Decades ago, he declared that the first and second spaces had "evolved into closely contained worlds within which regularity and routine are closely tied to the success of their respective functioning... Association loses diversity, and people come to expect too much from too few people in a duality of settings in which surprise, adventure, risk, and excitement are alien commodities."

To shake up this routine, he called for more third spaces ("a great good place") where people can gather and put aside their concerns from home or work. It's in these third spaces that we can simply hang out and take pleasure in good company and lively conversation.

What makes these places different? According to Oldenberg, they are:

  • Neutral. People can come and go as they please. No one is required to play host. And it feels comfortable.

  • Inclusive. By nature, it’s an inclusive place. The general public has access, and there are no formal criteria for membership or exclusion.

  • Social. Conversation is encouraged. You can meet people outside of your existing network. Handshakes and smiles are encouraged.

  • Familiar. Regulars dominate third spaces. They set the vibe and culture and welcome newcomers into the fold.

  • Welcoming. The physical space is inviting but not pretentious. It feels like a place made for people, not first impressions.

Third spaces have existed across time and space. The Arabian coffeehouse. The Parisian salon. The Colonial meeting house. The German beer garden. You’ve seen them on television. The local bar in Cheers, Central Perk in Friends, Monk’s Cafe (with the neon pink and blue sign: “restaurant”) in Seinfeld. And most recently, we’ve seen third spaces enmeshed with the activities of second spaces (work) in co-working hubs and nomad-friendly coffee shops.

Now that work is in the home, we need third spaces more than ever.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite “third space”?

  2. If you were to design a "third space," what would it look like? How would it feel?

  3. How can you create more separation between your first (home) and second (work) spaces, if you work from home?


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