LTE: Larry Kraft on the importance of third places

Dear Editor,


A “third place,” a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book “The Great Good Place,” refers to a location where people spend the majority of their time after home and work – their first and second places.

Third places are informal public gathering places that serve as social anchors and safe places. They are a home away from home, a place where people feel that they belong.

Fans of the fictional Springfield of The Simpsons will recognize that Moe’s is definitely Homer’s third place. And those of us who watched the television show, Cheers, know that Sam and Coach provided such a space – “where everybody knows your name” – to their regulars. In Vermont, general stores may have historically played this role.

A third place should be comfortable and approachable – like a living room for the community. It is a reprieve from home and work, which are often structured and require a time commitment.

Oldenburg suggests that third places are the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy. They promote social equality, provide a setting for grassroots activities, create habits of public association, and offer support to both individuals and communities. Status and class, which can be major points of stress or contention in our first or second place, are simply not relevant at our third place.

In contrast to the structured social experiences of home and work, third places offer a neutral public space for a community to connect and establish bonds. Third places, according to Oldenburg, “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”

Oldenburg defines the following characteristics for a third place: It is a neutral ground, a leveling place, conversation is the focus, it’s accessible and accommodating, has a playful atmosphere, and there are regulars.

A third place is a powerful antidote to isolation and exclusion. It restores our connection to others and to our community. It is haven for nurturing strong relationships, which are our greatest social asset and vital to our individual health and happiness.

In Springfield, do we have third places? Perhaps the fraternal organizations like the Moose and Elks and veterans organizations like the VFW, or American Legion? The Town Library, especially with its varied programs, could certainly fill this role. For young people, the Community Center and The SPACE are here. Some research even suggests that a local McDonalds can become the equivalent of the English pub or public house for gatherings.

Strengthening social networks is a crucial step to reviving our neighborhoods and addressing social problems. Having third places can do much to help stabilize the Springfield community and reduce its social problems.

Third places are critical components of a neighborhood or of a town like Springfield. The creation of these spaces, however, is not accidental. They are the result of careful consideration, intention, and planning.

Our town planners and leaders need to help foster and encourage third places in Springfield. And citizens need to support them. Because, in the end, having a third place may be the key to reviving our connection to each other and to our town.



Larry Kraft

N. Springfield, Vt.

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