A third place is somewhere other than home or work where a person can go to relax and feel part of the community. This is about the simple art of living your life in the real “day-to-day” world. In that world, all communities — and therefore all members of communities — need a third place. It’s not your home. It’s not where you work. Those are the first two places. No, it’s the place where you go to… um… be.
The term “third place” was invented by sociologist Ray Oldenburg and first appeared in his 1990 book The Great Good Place, a celebration of the places where people can regularly go to take it easy and commune with friends, neighbours, and just whoever shows up. The subtitle of the book says it all: “Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through the Day.”
“All great societies provide informal meeting places, like the Forum in ancient Rome or a contemporary English pub,” explains Oldenburg. “But since World War II, North America has ceased doing so.”
The term derives from Oldenburg’s gloss on a Freudian concept. Sigmund Freud held that emotional well-being depends upon having someone to love and work to do. Oldenburg argues that the great psychoanalyst made his mental-health list one item too short. Besides a mate and a job, Oldenburg said, we need a dependable place of refuge where, for a few minutes a day, we can escape the demands of family and work.
In that kind of psychological Eden, an easy-going atmosphere allows us to be temporarily amnesic to our woes and shortcomings. In fact, Oldenburg is convinced that many problems of contemporary society — alienation in the workplace, soaring divorce rates, etc. — trace to North America’s declining supply of such third places.