In 1989, Ray Oldenburg coined the phrase “third places” in his book The Great Good Place, which I read in the nineties. The book made an enormous impact on my life and determined what I seek as the perfect environment to thrive.
Our town of San Miguel de Allende with its cafes, outdoor seating and courtyards, library, parks, beauty, and rough around the edges welcoming vibe has proven to be exactly what we envisioned for our happy place. It is, as they say, a “community living room,” a third space.
Humans need contact and community, and third places are public spaces that promote the exchange of ideas and building relationships while having a pleasant time. They are equalizers or strive to be. Social and financial status shouldn’t come into play. And an email address or fee is unnecessary to join.
This is not always the case because of stigma and prejudices, but we can all work together to bring about change. The lack of inclusivity has reared its ugly head for too long and we are seeing the horror as people pit against each other. When did the earth become so subdivided?
In the hierarchy, first place is home (private), second is work (structured and private) and third is a relaxed, neutral, happy medium between the two and in my mind the most important of the three.
During coronavirus lockdowns, I witness people getting antsy and short-tempered without access to community and unique experience.
Zoom has become somewhat of a substitute, but the coziness of touch and physical interaction disappears.
It is a great alternative for keeping in contact with friends, family, colleagues, and groups. And I believe the result will be a dramatic change in how we define workspace and office.
But we will still seek a basic human need to connect person to person and meet others. A zoom group is just that, a pre-designed group.
A coffee at a cafe is possibility.
A new best friend, a mentor, employer, lover. An endless stream of potentials.
As we near the end of quarantine, we are ready to go out on the streets, into restaurants and parks, and hear the buzz of conversation coupled with the chance to hug, shake hands, and dance again.
Let’s not waste the third places. Let’s latch on and promote them more than ever.
And let’s meet and shout hola with a smile.