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The Loss of a Third Space

After a long day of work or school where do you go? Is it to the local library or bookstore to browse among the aisles, looking for something new to read? Is it a favorite coffee shop to grab a latte with a few friends? Is it the dog park, where you and your pet can enjoy fresh air after being inside for most of the day? Or is it home, where rotting resides, and you can simply unwind by watching your favorite show or scrolling through TikTok until the late hours of the night? 

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg has coined a name for these phenomena, “third spaces”. A “third space” is a community space where you can gather that is not your two primary spaces: work or school, and home. A “third space” serves a particular role to us, giving a reprieve from the normal solitude or monotony from the two lives we often live. They operate as public spots that have a sort of active participation or community element around them. 

As we get further into the digital, industrialized age, we have begun to lose these community spaces. The digital world at home has become a “third space,” where we find community online instead of through in-person gatherings and social opportunities. Everything is at the tip of our fingers at home whether it’s our phones or TV, our own food, or our own comfy space; so why leave home when it’s comfortable? 

Not having a “third space,” or a community gathering spot is detrimental to our wellbeing, as our worlds between digital and physical blend and we soon lose the joys of socializing with others and engaging in our community. This is not to say that only extroverts who enjoy social interaction and thrive from it need a “third space,” introverts benefit too with being able to practice peace among strangers.  

Recently, we’ve seen a decline in community spaces as more hobbies and joyful practices become monetized; even grabbing a cup of coffee can cost a pretty penny. We’re taught to monetize our hobbies like knitting, pottery, cooking, and more in order to make a living rather than to just live and experience creating for the sake of creating. This goes hand in hand with the decline of “third spaces” as life has become so expensive it can almost be unsustainable to continuously gather in public. 

For kids and teenagers, the lack of “third spaces” is even more detrimental as they don’t have a public social gathering to assist in learning social cues. Malls are deteriorating by the second in exchange for online fast fashion. Old-school roller rinks have been torn down for more housing complexes. And now, even some shops are asking kids under 18 to be accompanied by adults. This exposes a few problems. One is in the lack of socialization in children and how these spaces are enforcing restrictions because of behavioral problems, but because they have no place to appropriately socialize with others besides school or the digital realm, we reach an interesting crossroads. 

To help unite communities socialize kids and adults alike and to combat the increasing “loneliness crisis,” we need to encourage “third spaces” in our own communities. In college it’s easier to find these spaces with the emphasis on a community of your own peers (i.e. places like the library or the gym). But, once out of the small bubble of your college town these spaces are increasingly important so that people can connect, aside from the digital or work worlds.  

The 70s had roller rinks, the 80s had malls and movie theaters, the 90s had skateparks, but think: how can we define the 2020s with our own “third spaces”? 


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