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The Third Space Theory and Why We Need One

"Most needed are those 'third places' which lend a public balance to the increased privatization of home life. Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The phrase 'third places' derives from considering our homes to be the 'first' places in our lives, and our work places the 'second.'" - Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place (1991).

In our daily lives, we all have our routines and for many of us, this routine on weekdays includes commuting – from home to work and back again. These locations, as mentioned in the quote above, represent our first and second places, and each have their specific purpose; for the first place, our home, it is where we attend to familial duties and the ritual of sleeping and waking. The second, our work, is where we go to complete our job-related duties and earn a living. However, what we don’t realise is that there is a third place: a location that we all retreat to during our day to be ourselves, relax, and grow our relationships.

It is this third place that Ray Oldenburg, an urban sociologist, wrote about in his book The Great Good Place back in 1991. It is an idea that has stood the test of time and is arguably a theory that we should consider vital to living life in these challenging times. While some may consider their home their “third place”, especially after the pandemic and work-from-home boom, Oldenburg postulates that this third place is actually a tangible separate area or locale.

As such, what constitutes a third place? In the US, research has found that they are locations which can strengthen a sense of community, where ideas are exchanged, relationships are built, and a good time is had by all. This research further found that for many young people, the third place may refer to their social media platforms of choice, but the fact of the matter is that the most effective third places are ones that are physical and serve to connect people to each other.

Why are third places so important? In an increasingly digital world, a chance to connect with others offline and to self-reflect in a physical location cannot be understated. Taken further, they can even build communities, bringing together people from various social classes and backgrounds, and thus serving as a “living room” of sorts for society.

On a personal note, third spaces can be places where we feel most at home without actually being at home. In an era where the importance of our mental health and our wellbeing are finally being acknowledged, it is thus more crucial that we as individuals find our “third place”. Regardless of whether we use it to socialise or to simply be alone, the “third place” is a location that truly plays a key role in creating balance in our lives.

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