Embracing Third Places in Your Community

We’ve lost many of our third places, and that’s hurting all of us. Fortunately, you can take action to turn this unfortunate trend around. We all benefit from these communal spaces in our communities. 

What is a Third Place?

A third place is a communal space where people can gather and socialize with others. It is accessible with as few barriers to use as possible. Third places include:

  • Libraries
  • Community Centers
  • Gymnasiums
  • Coffee Shops
  • Pubs/Taverns
  • Parks
  • Dog Parks
  • Public Swimming Pools & Golf Courses
  • Churches 
  • Bookstores
  • Clubs

Many third places are publicly funded, but they don’t have to be. A private business can be a third place as long as it meets certain criteria. They should be welcoming to all regardless of social status, accommodating to people who use them, promoting conversation, encouraging regular attendance, and having a positive atmosphere.

Why Are Third Places Important?

People can go to third places to connect with members of their community, gain access to resources they need, and gather information about the world right around them. When there are third places people experience better mental health and less isolation. They also become more engaged citizens.

Why Are Third Places Disappearing?

The pandemic led to the demise of many third places. At the very least it caused many to be less accessible than they had been. That’s something we’ve never recovered from. Private businesses that served as third places may not have been able to survive the shutdown. Additionally, other actions hurt these spaces directly and indirectly. For example, many cities cut public transportation routes and never restored them. This has led to a lack of accessibility.

There are other reasons too. When private business owners make decisions that reduce access or make spaces less welcoming they are no longer third places. Overreaching enforcement of laws and policies that make public gatherings difficult is also a factor. Some examples of this are:

  • Hostile Architecture
  • Laws Against Loitering And Gathering
  • Curfews
  • Entrance Fees
  • Loss of Funding
  • Inadequate Disability Access

Why Does This Matter?

Sadly, the people who are most impacted by the loss of third places are the poor, disabled, elderly, and members of targeted communities. When third places disappear, only the privileged can enjoy the community and connection found in spaces beyond home and work.

How You Can Support Third Spaces

You can use your voice, wallet, and time to ensure the third places in your community are supported. 

Use Your Voice

Let the stakeholders and gatekeepers in your community know that you fully support third spaces. Speak against policies that harm or eliminate third places. Speak to business owners who provide these spaces for people to gather. Let them know you value what they are doing. Remember that third places require ongoing management. Take part in meetings relating to planning, building, and maintaining these. Finally, advocate for spaces for all, even those you may not use personally.

Use  Your Wallet

Invest in third spaces. The simplest and most effective way to do that is to go to those places and spend money. You can also donate as you are able to. 

Use Your Time

Spend time in third places, especially those that are publicly managed or supported by non-profits. Make these places a regular gathering spot for yourself and your friends. If you need help making local connections try Hily or events groups in your area.

These places won’t be a priority for funding or management if people don’t use them. Besides, there’s a good chance that you can benefit from spending time in your own third place.

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