By Tarah Hodgkinson
One of the main tenets of SafeGrowth is social cohesion. I recently spent a few weeks in Australia as part of a conference and research trip. During this trip, I spent some time in hostels on the east coast of the country. I was reminded of the importance of shared spaces or third places and their role in encouraging social cohesion.
Third place is a term coined by Ray Oldenberg in his book The Great Good Place. Oldenberg claims that we have three places:
- The ‘first place’ is the home, shared with those who live in the home.
- The ‘second place’ is the workplace. These places are where we spend the most time.
- The ‘third place’ then is the place where we find community and social life. He argues these third places are the anchors of community and social engagement.
COFFEE SHOPS - MORE THAN COFFEE
Examples of the third place include local coffee shops, pubs, rec centers, barber shops, farmers' markets, community gardens and other places where people can come together, meet and socialize.
Third places are more than just a location outside of work and home to congregate. These places must have certain characteristics in order to become a third place. They should be neutral (no one has claim over them), they should be leveling (no one social status matters more), they should be free or inexpensive, they should be accessible to everyone, there should be regular faces and they should promote conversation over everything else.
Australian hostels get how to do third places. They boast numerous shared spaces including shared kitchens, recreation rooms, seating areas, computer areas and cheap cafes. This is ideal for the traveler trying to connect with others.
This is vastly different than hostels in Canada and some in Europe, that operate more as a hotel, where the only shared spaces are bars and restaurants, which are not only costly but don’t encourage natural conversation.
What can Australian hostels teach us about community engagement? Oldenburg claims third places are the center of civic engagement and civil society and necessitate the steps of social change. They do so because they allow people to come together, to share ideas, discuss issues and mobilize for change.
When I stayed in hostels that had third places, I met fellow travelers with ease, learned about fun, entertainment hot spots and made friends, many of whom I am still in contact with. This did not happen in the hotel-like hostels. In neighborhoods, third places trigger social engagement and cohesion and this is the beginning of how we start changing neighborhoods for the better.