August 3, 2011: Washington, DC: One perk of living in small, urban spaces is that places like coffee shops and libraries and pubs become natural extensions of our living rooms. When space is tight, we find ourselves making better use of neighborhood haunts as second homes. There’s something comforting about lounging in these expansive public spaces instead of a cramped corner of the apartment. Especially on overcast days like today.
In his book, The Good Great Place, Ray Oldenburg called these spots “third places.” He wrote about how these third places connect us to our communities in ways that our first and second places, home and work, do not. Starbucks notably branded itself as the ultimate third place in growing its business in neighborhoods nationwide.
Is the role of these third places changing? With so many people now working out of coffee shops instead of offices, are these places becoming more central to our culture? Or are we losing the community connections they once provided, with our heads down, buried in work?
Or maybe we have less time for the third place as our responsibilities increase in the first two. Did you spend more time in these places as a student? Or is it simply that a different set of third places, say public libraries with young children, become important once our own roles shift?
Maybe there are always times when the company of neighbors can be more comfortable than home. Maybe there’s something consistently refreshing about being among regulars, whether we know them or not.