A Question: What’s Your Third Place?


I’ve been thinking recently about the concept of the Third Place, which is usually defined by:

  • The “first place” is 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.

With hallmarks such as those defined by Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place which explores such hangouts at the heart of the community:

  • 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.


Apparently, even Starbucks was shaped by someone wanting to create a third place as a coffee shop in the style of the traditional Italian coffeehouse.

How I Define It

For me, a third place is somewhere physical or virtual (I’ll get on to this again later) that’s not work and not home, that allows me to mentally relax and defocus from the concerns of everyday life usually associated with those places.

It must be somewhere that affords me the luxury of uninterrupted thought to consider whatever worry, concern, or even slight niggle that has been bugging me about places one and two. By gaining that mental distance I’m able to more easily find solutions or just generally be at peace.

Many years ago my “third places” would have been friend’s houses (massive all-nighter gaming sessions!) or pubs, since that’s all I really did outside of home, work/study, commute.


Coffee shop

Then I grew older and it became almost entirely pubs and bars.

Thankfully, London being a major city has a significant number of social places, and a few of these are reasons for me loving this city as much as I do; if you’ve never spent a lazy afternoon wandering around the Tate Modern, Royal Festival Hall, or just exploring Southbank in general, or the British Museum, British Library, The Barbican, then I thoroughly recommend you do. (*)

That’s not even scratching the surface of the available resources for public Zen; the museum district around South Kensington offers the V&A, Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum – all amazing, all fascinating, all full of people just milling around (all with free wifi!)

The benefit of these sorts of places for my psychological well-being is immense.

However, since becoming a parent my third places have significantly changed; I’ve no money for pubs and bars and very little time for visiting London’s great spaces so for a few years that Third Place became my cycle commute; a chance to spend an hour not thinking about usual day to day concerns, instead focussing solely on staying alive in central London’s rush hour traffic!

I’d often find that a good, fast – safe – cycle ride would result in my brain having deciphered that coding, architecture, or management problem I’d just mentally left behind in the office, possibly more efficiently than finding a space to walk around in and force myself to think it through.


I have previously spent much time working from coffee shops or those great places mentioned above, moving from one to another as I need to; I no longer have that luxury.

Having moved both house and job recently, I am no longer able to fit cycling into my daily routine and I don’t spend enough time on one single form of public transport to achieve that same state of Zen – constantly changing from bus to tube to tube to bus interrupts any such defocusing.

Several years ago a few articles claiming the internet as a third place were published; a couple that stood out for me were Scott Hanselman’s The Developer Theory of the Third Place (2007) and The internet as the 3rd place from Advomatic.

The time people invest in Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and any other forums of social media allow them to treat these as their social interaction outside of the work and the home (presumably whilst still physically inside of work or home) and for some people this brings similar benefits as a physical location and have almost all of the same hallmarks;

  • Free or inexpensive
  • 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.

The same is true of most well known techie online hangouts; StackOverflow or Reddit as great examples of this.

So What’s My Point?

I’m writing this as I’ve realised why I’m gradually more uneasy these days; I think I’ve lost my third place. No bars, pubs, gaming sessions, time to just wander around, time to cycle.

The virtual places are no longer that engaging; Facebook is just something to look at whilst patting my kids to sleep at night. No time to just hangout on SO, Reddit, FB, other.

I think for a while I immersed myself in learning new things or working all hours on one or many projects, perhaps just blogging; this was probably more of a distraction than escapism and only succeeded in exhausting me such that I haven’t had any energy for a few months!

As such, I’m slightly at a loss, dear reader. What’s your third place? What could mine be?..


(*) Other cities are available, and are equally amazing.