Third Spaces: Finding Comfort and Safety


All of us have at least two types of places in common that we frequent: our homes and our school campus. But what spaces do we occupy outside of that? And does it even matter? 

The concept of the third space was coined by sociologist Ray Oldenberg.

  1. First place is a home where we reside and build up personal lives,it’s known for its privacy and element of ownership. It’s important for providing comfort and stability.
  2. The second place is work or school which is where we spend a lot of our time. This space is characterized by its productivity and structural demands. They are important for your career development and for the economy.
  3. The last and most relevant place is one which fosters a particular sense of community. This is neither home nor work and can be something like a park, a community centre, or a cafe. It is centred on the idea that we need third places for social connection and public relaxation. 
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It’s important to know that third places are more than just a physical location, they are an opportunity to reflect and to connect. A third space can give you a chance to think about your living situation, or give you a sense to appreciate your surroundings.  There are several characteristics that third places tend to share; they promote social interaction by giving people who know each other and who don’t a chance to engage in conversation and interact with people outside of people they immediately interact with. They cultivate a sense of belonging by making you feel valued and important as part of the bigger picture. A beautiful thing about third spaces is that they build stronger, more resilient communities. 

However in the digital day and age, access to third spaces has diminished, and this  is impacting us negatively; and we cannot understand the vitality of social interactions for our mental health and wellbeing. In many ways, we have replaced physical interaction with interaction online. But truly it can be both bad and good for socialization. There are benefits to treating the internet as a third space; many people feel more able to express themselves authentically on the internet and connect with people who they actually feel aligned with. Furthermore almost everyone has access to the internet and it’s very non hierarchical making it easier to connect with people you might not typically get the chance to in real life. However, you are lacking the crucial element of interaction online, it is a simulation more than a third space. 

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With possible financial obstacles, and the urbanization of our environments have made it harder to interact in these third spaces, if they even exist as an opportunity to connect in certain places at all. This whole theory is meant to remind us about the importance of finding a balance outside of the first two places. The only way to make sure that third spaces are maintained and even expanded upon is through individuals and then eventually the community realizing their importance, end up keeping them. 

We can do this through making the choice to regularly occupy and bring life to these spaces. This begins with taking a moment to identify and recognize said third spaces in our environment. This can be followed by not only being present and involved when in those spaces but actually prioritising these interactions over online dynamics. This is not in hopes of demonizing online third spaces which have become intertwined with our lives- instead of being an either/or, we should note that each has unique benefits as they offer distinct opportunities for social interaction, community engagement, and personal development.

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