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Cities and the Rule of Thirds

Your “third place” is where you habitually go to unwind, to shoot the breeze, to see and be seen, to put yourself out there

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IF YOU looked at the photo below and, by the fabric of the bench and the pattern on the floor, immediately knew where it was taken, the The Original Pinkie Masters might be your "third place."

Do you know the pig's name? If so, The Original Pinkie Masters is definitely one of your Third Places.
  • Do you know the pig's name? If so, The Original Pinkie Masters is definitely one of your Third Places.

If you also know the name of the pig (I’m not telling), it’s a certainty.

You’ve probably come across this term “third place” before, maybe right here in Connect when it appeared a few weeks ago in Jessica Leigh Lebos’ column about the proposed Lone Wolf Lounge in the Thomas Square neighborhood.

To be clear, your home is your “first place.” Where you work is your “second place.”

Your “third place” is where you habitually go to unwind, to shoot the breeze, to see and be seen, to put yourself out there for a serendipitous intersection.

It’s a café, a bar, a bookstore with some comfy couches, or maybe a corner of the public park with some seating and shade.

Not everyone has a third place, but maybe they should. Some social butterflies have several—it’s not against the rules.

A good mixed-use neighborhood will have several options.

Like Jane Jacobs’ observation and documentation of the “eyes on the street” concept, urban sociologist Roy Oldenberg’s articulation of the “third place” concept in his 1989 book The Great Good Place has been appropriated by the general public and spread far beyond academia and professionals.

Oldenberg and others following him have delineated what makes for a proper third place, but here’s my own summation, based largely on personal experience (and yes, it will be bar-centric):

It’s ok for you to linger.

This attribute is a deal-breaker. If you can’t hang out, it’s not a third place.

This doesn’t mean that you can take up space and pay for nothing (unless it’s the park)—people running a business have bills to pay! However, it means that you can buy a drink or a coffee and not feel too much pressure to keep on spending or finish and go.

This is why restaurants are seldom third places, unless they have a large bar area that follows different rules than the tables served by waitstaff. This is why Blowin’ Smoke has recently achieved third place potential with the expansion of their bar area from 4 seats to 20-something, with surrounding high-top tables to boot.

You can find yourself there on a whim.

The third place should be located somewhere that is easily accessible to you. This typically means that it is close to where you live (more dangerously, close to where you work) or it is along a route that you take by habit.

I have one of each. The aforementioned Blowin’ Smoke is close enough that a friend can shoot me a text message suggesting that we meet up, and I can walk out the door and be there in about five minutes. Whoever gets there first decides what the chips are being dipped into.

I’m also the kind of guy that attends more City Council sessions than is healthy, so Pinkie Masters is always a draw, especially since I typically Uber to such things and then walk back south of Forsyth.

That place was made for blowing off steam and sharing the stupid thing that alderling so-and-so just said, and it’s at its most third place-ish in the afternoon. It is the cure for what ails ya.

You are known there.

This doesn’t have to be “Norm!” -level recognition upon entry. It can be as simple as “Vodka soda, or a Guinness?” from the bartender as soon as you find your stool, because s/he knows that it’s usually one or the other for you.

This sort of treatment is especially welcome in the presence of newbies and tourists, as it immediately elevates you in stature. They whisper to each other with a nod—“Must be a regular.”

You know it as well as it knows you.

Yeah, you know why the owner-bartender has that three-letter nickname. You know what it stands for. You know that ironically it doesn’t actually pertain to his personal qualities.

If the newbies and tourists are cool, maybe you’ll share that, or a story about the time Dave Chappelle showed up.

It has a utility to you above and beyond what you actually pay for.

This is why you actually go there. It’s not for the drink, the chips, the coffee, or the magazine.

You could find those things plenty of other places. You are there for the added benefits; in economic terms the “positive externalities.”

This is why third places are important not just to individuals, but to neighborhoods. They are infused with “socially-created value.”

Present and potential third places in the area south of Forsyth Park, within quarter mile walk: 1) Sentient Bean and American Legion. 2) Blowin’ Smoke. 3) Foxy Loxy Cafe and Gallery. 4) The Wormhole. 5) Two Tides Brewing Company, pending text amendment to zoning code. 6) The Lone Wolf Lounge, pending ZBA approval.
  • Present and potential third places in the area south of Forsyth Park, within quarter mile walk: 1) Sentient Bean and American Legion. 2) Blowin’ Smoke. 3) Foxy Loxy Cafe and Gallery. 4) The Wormhole. 5) Two Tides Brewing Company, pending text amendment to zoning code. 6) The Lone Wolf Lounge, pending ZBA approval.

You go there to build bonds. Neighbors become known. You swap advice on home or car maintenance.

You take the temperature on what people think of that proposed ordinance or real estate development.

One could argue, as I would, that a neighborhood is not vibrant if it lacks third places. That’s just a bedroom community or a business district.

You will hear people tell you that bars and restaurants and other uses do not belong in residential neighborhoods.

Actually, yes they most certainly do, if they can meet certain performance standards, especially in our older Additive City.

Single-use residential neighborhoods are an aberration of the auto era. Mixed-use is what’s actually traditional, and we are re-learning the hard work of letting uses mingle in proximity after decades of trying to keep them apart, and we will all be richer for it.

So, if you want to support the vitality of your community by supporting the establishment of third places, drop in on the ZBA hearing on April 27 at 10 a.m. and lend your voice in favor of Lone Wolf Lounge.

If you can’t make it in person, you can always write an email to the ZBA secretary, Jack Butler at butlerj@thempc.org.

Today it’s Lone Wolf in Starland/Thomas Square. Tomorrow it’s a new third place in your revitalizing neighborhood.

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