Why You Should Make Space for a Third Place in Your Life This Year
If feeling a greater sense of community is on your list of resolutions, consider seeking out a third place. From a coffeehouse to the gym, learn about the value of spaces beyond work and home, and get ideas for finding yours from HGTV editors.
These days, community can feel hard to come by, but a sense of community is one of the most important factors in overall well-being. In fact, lack of community is considered a public health concern. And while we can find community among coworkers and the people we live with, day-to-day life revolving only around work and home can feel isolating. What’s more, for many people, especially since the pandemic, work and home are in the same physical space. That’s where a third place comes in.
What is a Third Place?
The sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term "third place" in his book The Great Good Place (1999), describing third places as neutral spaces outside of work and home where individuals can gather informally with a shared sense of community and belonging. And the concept has caught on with community planners, public health advocates, the general public and even on TikTok. The need for a third place is the same whether you’re young or old, or you live in an urban, suburban or rural area.
But third places (also called third spaces) look different than they did generations ago, or even a decade or five years ago. (Hello, pandemic.) Pubs and cafes are popular historical examples of third places, but as work has become more sedentary, many people are seeking more physical activity in their free time, making places like parks, gyms and yoga studios popular as third places. It’s a bit of a controversial statement, but third spaces can also be online.
Third Spaces Can Be Virtual
While there are definitely benefits to having a third place that is a physical setting, many people today also find a sense of belonging through online communities, or a combination of both physical and virtual.
Place doesn’t have to be literal. While Oldenburg (and many others) argued that the best third places are physical, brick and mortar — as opposed to virtual — inevitably many people today find or maintain community through connected online experiences. The key is to do what you love to do but do it with others. Whether that’s playing a video game or taking a walk, sharing an experience enhances it.
But it could also mean doing something you don’t love — yet — like exercise for which you need encouragement. Studies show that having social support for physical exercise makes us less likely to feel tired or feel like quitting. Working out with others helps us combat the health risks associated with both isolation and lack of physical activity.
Finding Your Third Place
For some, the idea of a third place doesn’t feel attainable, and the lack of one can even cause anxiety. But realizing that, in today’s world, a third place can be nearly anything or anywhere, eases that burden. As my colleague Caroline Alkire said: "The 'third place' might not have to be a place at all. It can be a feeling, a connection, or a sense of belonging — and the physical setting this magical feeling occurs in doesn’t matter. The third place is the people who build it."
I agree wholeheartedly. When I think about the past year, my third place has been the yoga studio where I spent many nights and weekends in yoga teacher training. But both the studio itself and my fellow teacher trainees have been my third places. While I still plan on visiting the studio often, the community I built through the training program is a third space of its own, no matter where and how we stay in touch.
I asked Caroline and others on our staff, who live and work across the country, to share their third places. Our third places include:
- Community gardens
- Restaurants or cafés
- Fitness or yoga classes
- Creative communities
- Parks, greenways and sidewalks
- Video gaming groups
While we, of course, love home, we hope our stories help you find some inspiration for finding your own third places, beyond home, where you can thrive.
Community gardens are ideal third places, offering a setting where you can connect with nature and with other people. And because they are literally shared spaces, community gardens are great places to practice the give and take required to create social fabric.
Caroline Alkire, Managing Editor, Seattle
I’ve been part of a creative writing group made up of six women, including myself, for almost three years. We met virtually in a writing workshop back in 2020. After the class (and the pandemic) ended, we started meeting up in IRL around New York City where we all used to live. We went on weekend "writing retreats" together to different towns outside the city. We all have different backgrounds and are only connected through writing. The relationships we've built feel unique compared to the other ones in my life because sharing creative writing often feels very private.
In the last year or so, three of us relocated to different cities or countries, but we still meet up on Zoom every so often (across three different time zones) to catch up and chat about what we're writing and reading. It feels special and rare to have maintained this connection, and I cherish the time we spend together in this “third place.” I believe when all of us congregate, we as a unit become the "third place" — whether we're meeting on Zoom, in a park, at a coffee shop, or at someone’s apartment.
Jessica Yonker, Editor, Atlanta
My third space is all the local restaurants in my city that we frequent on an almost weekly basis. There are hundreds of restaurants in Atlanta, but few that we keep returning to and could spend hours sitting in. With friends and family living all over the city who all have their own lives to tend to, these places have become our dedicated meeting spots where we’ve all befriended the staff — if one of us walks in alone, you can bet the staff will ask where the others are.
I’m also finding a community at the gym I joined, which is a completely new experience for me! I’ve made new friends, and even reconnected with a friend who I hadn’t seen in years after running into her at yoga.
Also, the community garden I joined this year quickly became my third space. While sometimes I long for a backyard where I can grow things right outside my door, it became a nice little ritual to get up in the morning or afternoon, hop on the train and go check on my plants. Plus, I’ve been able to make connections with the other garden members.
Jordan Lawson, Editor, Atlanta
My third place isn’t a physical location — it’s more of a hangout spot but in my own home. I play video games with friends at least two to three times a week at night. It’s almost like they’re in my living room or we met up somewhere to play. The gang has gained and lost members over the years, but the core group remains the same. Most of us were strangers at first — except a pair of hilarious twin brothers, who obviously have known each other for a long time, and one of my best friends (Alan) who I introduced to the group — but the rest of us met over games. We’ve had epic victories, ugly defeats, saved the world a few times, and Alan and I even went to the twins’ weddings last year. So, the third place to me isn’t a destination, but instead a state of mind — knowing that after a long day, I’ll have a hangout spot to go talk to friends, have some laughs (and probably a glass of wine or a beer), and enjoy our hobby.
Shannon Phillips, Managing Editor, Knoxville, Tennessee
I like a third place that involves some sort of physical activity — after working at a desk all day, I feel like I need to move around and take a break from screens. Meeting up with a friend for a walk at a park or a greenway is always one of my favorite ways to get some exercise and catch up in one go. Bonus points that it’s free — I enjoy going out with friends for drinks or dinner occasionally, but those things can really add up. Even on days when I don’t make it to a park, just a walk around my neighborhood by myself or with my husband is a nice buffer between the workday and the evening. When I’m working from home, I feel like it replaces the commute from the office and gives me some time to clear my head.
I also really enjoy trying new exercise classes with a friend or a group of friends, which is something I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing since the pandemic and would love to pick up again in the new year. Something about looking silly together while attempting complicated yoga poses or commiserating over having to do yet another set of burpees makes for one of my favorite bonding experiences.
T.K. Brady, Senior Editor, Long Island, New York
After moving to the suburbs from New York City, the thing I missed most was "walking coffees" — literally, coffee in a to-go cup to sip while walking to work, the grocery store, spin class, you get the idea. In search of more ways to be outside and explore our new Long Island home, my fiancé and I started doing walking coffees on weekends in the towns around us. After a few months, we discovered coffee shops we adored, towns we felt at home in and new shops, restaurants and people who make up the community we’re a part of, but the walking coffee is the third-place experience we always come back to. We even do walking coffees on vacation! It’s a third place we can take with us anywhere to bring a sense of comfort and a familiar habit.
Lauren Fansler, Editor, Knoxville, Tennessee
I have begun taking my dog on daily walks throughout my neighborhood. Not only is it a good way to exercise, but I have also met many of my neighbors and formed relationships with them. There’s Jack down the road who loves making chocolate and delivers me a little goodie bag every time I walk by, and Fares who owns a bike shop and fitted my son for his first helmet. In my third place, I am able to form relationships with people that I otherwise wouldn’t cross paths with.