by Tarah Hodgkinson
We have written extensively on this blog, and elsewhere about the importance of the “third place”. In Ray Oldenburg’s work The Great Good Place, Oldenburg discusses the importance of the third place: Third places are spaces other than home (first place) and work (second place) where folks can meet, gather, connect and build social cohesion. He names several types of third places including cafes, hair salons, barbershops, pubs, libraries, bookshops and more that are at the heart of any great community. These are spaces that people can spend lots of unstructured time in without having to spend much money.
In the wake of COVID-19 many of these local places are starting to disappear. Unable to keep up with the rising costs of rolling lockdowns and having to restrict the number of patrons, many of these establishments have either limited the time you can spend in them or been shuttered altogether. This has led to several issues including vacant storefronts, reducing foot traffic and eyes on the street, and increasing monopolies of these spaces by large corporations that are less interested in creating a space for their neighbours and building community cohesion.
We know that social cohesion relies on third places to bring together people together. We also know that a lack of these places, can reduce social cohesion and increase risks of crime. Never has that been a more prominent issue, than during a pandemic when we are literally more separated than ever before.
However, there are some shining rays of hope in neighbourhoods around the globe. In Brisbane, Australia for example, a small café called the Red Bowler, feels exactly like a third place. Here, the café is not only a place to grab a coffee and a bite to eat, but the staff also know the locals, regulars sit down at comfy couches near you to strike up a conversation and the owners hold weekly events including movie nights, live music, and even mobile dog washes. No one is rushed out and as a result, the community builds.
This is just one example of a commitment to create places that are neutral, inclusive and a home away from home. As we continue to emerge from the seemingly endless impact of COVID-19 on our everyday lives, it is more important than ever that we revive and support these third places. They are the neighbourhood cornerstones of connection that will help us to not only recover but thrive again as communities.
by Mateja Mihinjac
As a CPTED professional, I experience the socio-physical environment in a more critical and analytical way than a general person. I observe features that may stimulate pro-social conduct as well as those that may offer opportunities for undesirable behaviour or even promote risk for users of those spaces. And yet, the decisions concerning the planning of public space are not straightforward.
Public benches represent one such conundrum. I’ve written previously that knee jerk reactions, such as removal of public benches, are common in an attempt to eliminate social problems such as unwanted loitering, sleeping on public benches, or vandalism.
Yet these decisions often come with the realisation that they don’t address the problem but rather displace it. They become tools of exclusion.
Can a humble public bench become a tool of inclusion?
MORE THAN A BENCH
As Kelsey I. Sagrero writes in her thesis Socializing Public Space: Benches in the Urban Setting, a bench can be more than just a bench. When planned with its function in mind, it can be a tool that attracts people and promotes social interaction in public spaces. Thus, she writes, we should make benches an intentional part of social spaces in which they are situated to promote social interaction and inclusivity of diverse groups. As such, a bench represents an important part of public social life.
One such initiative comes from the UK with strategically placed “Happy to chat” benches. The purpose of those benches is to promote conversation for their users and address the problem of loneliness and alienation, especially amongst the elderly.
In my exploration of the City of Helsingborg, Sweden, I also came across some interesting examples of benches that instantly attracted my attention.
The first was pride rainbow benches painted ahead of the 2021 Helsingborg Pride Festival. The purpose of the benches was to demonstrate that expression of diversity and inclusion are not limited to the LGBTQ community alone and are an important conversation starter in urban space.
The second was yellow friendship benches situated in different areas around the city. They attracted my attention with their happy bright yellow colour and a sign “A hello can save a life”. These benches intend to raise awareness of mental illness and suicide and to offer support through care and respect for one another through informal interpersonal conversations.
As these public benches have become places for promoting social interaction and conversations, and thus a form of third places, they have also become tools of social messaging that reflects societal struggles and sentiments and advances the conversation on important topics such as diversity, inclusion, and mental health.
It's fascinating how a humble piece of street furniture can serve such an important social role in public life.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
This week we continue to watch the unfolding of the Black Lives Matter movement. As Portland becomes the new epicentre of unrest, local residents are out in droves standing against federal law enforcement. Federal authorities claim to be protecting statues from toppling and other property damage, though one could argue human life is receiving far less respect.
Residents have taken to the streets to demand a better future for themselves and their kids. Amidst the horror of watching the news about Portland, I have been reading Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg, the writing highlighted in Ifeoma Ebo and Greg Saville’s SafeGrowth presentation in Sweden last November.
A BLEAK FUTURE
I’ve always found reading Klinenberg like sitting down with an old friend. I don’t know exactly where the conversation will lead, but it will be engaging and familiar. However, just as I was settling into the accustomed pace of these ideas, a particular quotation resonated with my background thoughts of Portland. Speaking about teenagers and their tendency to shun face-to-face interactions in exchange for online communication, Klinenberg writes,
“According to research by danah boyd, director of the research institute Data & Society, young people spend so much of their social time online because adults – from helicopter parents to hyper vigilant school administrators and security guards – give them few other options”.
Right now, as mothers are forming human barricades between the protesters and federal agents, youth are rising up in unprecedented numbers. Sparked by the work done by the “March for our Lives” movement and others, our youth have their heads up and are looking at a pretty bleak future.
There is an ongoing lament about the younger generation. Books like The Dumbest Generation claim that the digital age has stupefied young people and made it so they are unable to engage in deep thought and meaningful conversations. However, this lament is not new. As research suggests, every generation has complained about the one after it. Indeed there is so much complaint about Millennials, most people forget that Millennials like me are in our thirties and forties with full-time careers and kids.
What Klinenberg describes is that when we deny spaces for youths to interact and engage without constant monitoring by adults, we deny them third places. These great good places, where teenagers can put aside family and school, have all but disappeared. Short of a few skateboard parks (that often impose strict rules) and community centres, there are no real places where youth can stumble upon other youth.
PLACES TO INTERACT AND SOCIALIZE
Young people need these unstructured and unmonitored spaces. These spaces should be flexible, inexpensive, inclusive of all groups, and located in neighbourhoods that do not fear the presence of young people. They should allow youth to meet and interact with diverse groups and grow intellectually and interpersonally. More importantly, in times like these, great good places create ways for young people to plan and engage civically. That kind of work cannot be done alone and online, as demonstrated in Dave Cullen's Parkland.
In a post-COVID world, we need to think about how we build social infrastructure with young adults. They need to be at the table and actively involved in these decisions. Many of our SafeGrowth communities have already worked alongside youth who are a part of local organizations, for example with neighbourhood Hubs in Honduras and while placemaking their own spaces in New Zealand.
More importantly, we need to be even more proactive and involve youth from across the spectrum of neighbourhood needs.
Not only will these third places encourage young people to make new friends and develop socially, but also help to build social capital and connection across diverse racial, sexual and class divides. These spaces will help us to build the better future our young people are already fighting for today.