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Why we must save our "third spaces"
Get out and support your neighbourhood bar or restaurant; we need them more than ever.
Archdaily recently published an article by Maria-Cristina Florian titled All Purpose Homes: Are Residential Spaces Taking Over the Role of First, Second, and 'Third Places'? She notes:
“The term “third place” was coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in the 1980s. In his book, “The Great Good Place,” he talks about the public spaces where people can gather and set aside the concerns of home and work, their first and second places, in order to simply enjoy the company of others. These can be coffee houses, gyms, bookstores, bars, bistros, churches, hair salons, and many others. They are spaces where unstructured interaction can happen, with chance encounters and unexpected connections. While easily overlooked, these represent an essential element in the life of any community and its social infrastructure.”
For many, the home had taken over the role of the second space, the office, but now was taking over the usual functions of third space as well. This has been happening for some time but got a big boost in the pandemic; the Peloton replaced the gym, the Doordash delivery replaced the restaurant, and the big flat-screen TV long ago replaced the movie theatre.
For the very rich, entire rooms are devoted to functions that were previously shared with others; AD Magazine shows 11 Designer-Approved Wellness Rooms to Incorporate Into Your Home, including yoga rooms, home gyms, spas, soundproof rooms, jet lag rooms, hobby rooms, even hammams or Turkish steam rooms.
The problem with incorporating all of these traditional third-space functions into our homes is the increasing bloat and cost, all for functions that are only used for a short time. Add in deliveries from Amazon, and there is no need to go outside at all. But after the enforced isolation of the pandemic, people need a little interaction.
Over a decade ago now, Lawyer and author Kaid Benfield asked Does a Sustainable Community Need a Good Drinking Establishment? in which he quoted another article by Michael Hickey, describing third spaces:
“The vaunted “third space” isn’t home, and isn’t work—it’s more like the living room of society at large. It’s a place where you are neither family nor co-worker, and yet where the values, interests, gossip, complaints and inspirations of these two other spheres intersect. It’s a place at least one step removed from the structures of work and home, more random, and yet familiar enough to breed a sense of identity and connection. It’s a place of both possibility and comfort, where the unexpected and the mundane transcend and mingle.
And nine times out of ten, it’s a bar.”
I picked up on this in 2021, noting that every 15-minute city needed good bars, I recall that one wag called it “New Bourbonism.” But we also need restaurants and coffee shops, and these third places are more important than ever now that so many of us have merged the first and second places into our homes. I concluded:
“I remain hopeful that we will see more people working from home or their local coworking space, supporting their local shops and stores, The first, second, and third spaces may be more muddled in the 15-minute city, but they will be back. And so will the bar.”
I remain convinced that the third spaces in our local 15-minute cities can thrive in the world of working from home. Others, like Eric Reguly of the Globe and Mail, thought the same;
“If more people were to work from home, neighbourhoods might spring back to life. Imagine a relaunch of Jane Jacobs’s urban ideal, where neighbourhoods have a diverse range of work and family functions, where municipal spending goes into parks, not urban expressways, and where single-use areas, like clusters of downtown office towers, dead at night, become archaic.”
I confess that the third spaces have been coming into our home. Where my Miata used to be, we now have an elliptical and a rowing machine. We have a big screen where I watch the movies. I haven’t been in the neighbourhood bar in years, although we do have a nice new wine bar with a great patio for the indoors-adverse.
But now that the weather is warm and the patios are opening, it’s time to get out of the house and support our local third spaces, new and old: the new art gallery, the hot new craft brewery, my favourite Italian restaurant. We need these third spaces for our sanity; we should all get out and support them.
From the archives: What Is the Future of Our Main Streets? British analysts believe that the stores are not coming back.
The Future of Main Street, Post-Pandemic What can we do to save our streets? Decentralize everything.