A couple of months ago Mike Lanza, of Playborhood fame, introduced me to the concept of a third place to be. I’ve copied the Wikipedia intro as it is a great summary of the idea:
The third place (also known as third space) is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. 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 the following hallmarks of a true “third place”:
- Free or inexpensive
- Food and drink, while not essential, are important
- Highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance)
- Involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there
- Welcoming and comfortable
- Both new friends and old should be found there
What strikes me abou this idea is that when you talk to adults about their most memorable play experiences they almost always occur in just such a “third place”. I think this is exactly what is missing for today’s kids. If you can’t leave your yard or your block, where is your third place? The local playground isn’t a third place because you can’t be there on your own. To make this idea more relevant to its applications to children we have to replace “work” with “school” or other adult led education, i.e. sports. Second, we have to add, you can “change stuff”. This ability to dig a hole, dam a stream, pluck a flower, build a hide-out are also the most frequent cherished play moments.
I think this is the formulae for what I have been seeking with the pattern language idea. There is no amount of innovation that will make the existing model of playgrounds into such a third place. No matter how great the backyard it is extremely rare that the qualities we, and kids, seek will be found there. This idea is very powerful and I’m going to have to mull it over more and I’d love to hear your thoughts.