Monday, July 13, 2009

The Third Place

A while back, Erica (Joey and Coco) said that she'd heard or read about a concept called "the third place," a place that is neither home nor work, a gathering spot for people of similar interests and concerns. She thought that Dog Park qualified as a third place, so I checked out a book called Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories about the "Great Good Places" at the Heart of Our Communities (Marlowe and Company, 2001). It is introduced and compiled by Ray Oldenburg, a sociology professor who introduced the concept of third place in the first place. 

Here's his definition of third place: " . . . a setting beyond home and work (the "first" and "second" places respectively) in which people relax in good company and do so on a regular basis. Many Americans, though not nearly enough, still give allegiance to a place they visit before or after work and when home life permits. Some have coffee there before work. Some have a beer there after work. Some stop in for the Luncheon Special every Thursday. Some drop by whenever it's convenient. It is their version of the once popular television series Cheers." (p. 2)

In Oldenburg's view, the third place is a physical space where not only good times are had but also good works get done by people who want to make a difference in their community. Oldenburg is clearly a softy for the pre-World War II era—pre-television, pre-computer, pre-A/C, pre-global economy, and pre-suburbs—a time when people knew their neighbors and shared enough values with them to want to socialize at the local watering hole. He mildly excoriates government (for poor zoning laws and highway building), corporate America (for its sterile restaurant and coffee shop franchises), and personal electronics (but not, interestingly, rising crime or a global economy) for distracting Americans from their community meeting places and the simple pleasures they provide. Each chapter in his book focuses on an old-fashioned third place—coffee houses, bars, bookstores, and churches—that still exist around the country (mostly the Midwest) and is written by a member of the third place community. 

Frankly, it's a little too Lake Wobegone for my taste, but I concede the point. Dog Park is certainly a third place. We go there before and after work. We have fun. We see a few people and a lot of dogs that we like. Are we doing any good through our community? Despite breaking leash laws (something which I think Oldenburg might actually approve of), we do look after one another. We help out if someone is sick or can't walk his or her dogs. We race to the vet if a dog gets injured. We pick up poop and trash and try to make sure that we don't annoy the people who work and live next to the property (Dog Park is their second and first place). But we are not a cohesive community. People arrive from all over town. They come for a while; then they stop coming. Months later, someone says, "Whatever happened to so-and-so?" Maybe somebody else remembers. There are alliances among us, certainly, but also animosities, too. In Oldenburg's book, everybody gets along, but that's not true at Park, among people or among dogs. 

However you want to label it, Dog Park exists. The state can't change that fact. The neighbors can't change that fact. Animal Control can't change that fact. We'll keep bringing our dogs there every day until somebody physically throws us out and erects barriers that keep us out because that third place is the first place I want to bring my dogs in this town. See you there. 

1 comment:

  1. I've never read Oldenburg's book(s) but his work comes up frequently in talking about and teaching the practice of design.

    I love that he calls Third Places, "happily anticipated gatherings beyond...home and work."

    It's 6:25 and the happy anticipation is in full swing for both the canine and human members of this household!


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