The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings which are separate from the two normal social environments of our homes (first place) and the workplace (second place).
In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place. Oldenburg calls one’s “first place” the home and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time.
Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs. Oldenburg suggests that the three hallmarks of a true “third place” are that they are free or inexpensive; provide food and drink (while not essential, quite important); and that they are highly accessible. Starbucks and Costa are obvious examples, but villages and rural communities often have other third places such as a cafe, a pub, a church hall or a school hall.
As more and more people choose to telecommute and work from home, third places become ever more important as the bridge between the old world and the new world of work: both paid and voluntary.
If we are going to re-invent society around more local, sustainable ways of working, then the nurturing of our third places becomes central to this new philosophy for 21st century living. And if we see want these “communities of place” to replace the industrial factories and call-centres and office factories of yesterday, then we must provide them with the latest broadband.
Hence Fibre to the Third Place. WiFi hotspots do some of it, but there remains a lot more work to do!