The Third Place- Forging Friendships and Chance Encounters

Hannah De Leon, Guest Writer

“The Third Place” is a term coined by Ray Oldenburg, referring to a third place where people spend their time.  The first place is home and second place is work. These places once housed the exchanging of ideas, built unlikely friendships, and were a good source of leisure. Some  examples of third places are bars, libraries, churches, clubs, and parks. Ray Oldenburg himself refers to third places as “the anchors of a community.” 


Third places are hubs where spontaneous relationships are formed and unlikely friendships are built. In comparison, people generally consider the people in their first place family, and while there is opportunity for great relationships at school or work, a person is generally with the same pool of passersby, coworkers, and classmates day in and day out. 


Photo of a Third Place (Victoria Beattie-Phillips)

Sociology major, Amy Martin, shared her findings when investigating third places for her own studies. There has been a steady decline in the attendance of these third places over the last few decades. Amy, as well as her peers, note that this is a result of several factors, including the polarization of political parties. She stated that they “put a lot of tension on people in these settings,” and that “ most people are honestly pretty non confrontational so they don’t want to risk being in a high tension situation.” She also mentioned that casual establishments like coffee shops and cafes are becoming more convenience-oriented. Establishments that once would have been third places have shifted to be “designed so the customer can just get what they need and go, and people don’t just hang out anymore because of it,” says Amy.


Another source on the matter, “Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam points to the modern layout of our communities. In his book, he points to our car-dependent communities. While third places themselves were the hubs of social interaction, at their peak, they were typically in clusters in downtown areas, where families could stroll on the weekends or younger people could do bar crawls. Cut to the eighties and the rise of shopping malls, and we see a significant decline in the foot traffic of downtowns, with the general population opting to go to the mall, which still was a third location. Malls were an excellent third place at their peak, and some malls around the country still have a bit of social buzz. However, upon the introduction of online shopping, even malls are facing fears of closing their doors.

Photo of a Third Place (Victoria Beattie-Phillips)


The internet has changed the social landscape entirely, and third places have taken on a whole new genre. Virtual third places, such as Reddit or TikTok, became a social lifeline for many people during the 2020 lockdown and popularized donning the role of an active member of an online community. According to Amy, they “aren’t really the same but were the best that some people had”. These communities have been very active for almost two decades, ranging from online gaming, to forums, to social media. While they promote social interaction from the convenience of a smartphone, there truly is something we miss out on if we do not physically enter a third place, specifically for socializing. However, similarly to distance learning or working from home, online third places are merely a hop, skip, and a tab switch away, and that accessibility can be a benefit in our fast-paced society. 


However, as society progresses to be more efficient and high functioning, brands are catering to this while also venturing into reintroducing interaction-oriented atmospheres. Amy noted,“work cafes are popping up in major cities in San Diego and LA,” which have been unanimously classified as third places due to their sit-down, slower-paced environment. The work cafes Amy noted are more work-oriented than say a country club or church; however, there still is a possibility of a chance encounter. Work cafes are closer aligned to a library or park where everyone is doing something different but are in the same general area; therefore, they are still classified as public places. 


Photo of a Third Place (Victoria Beattie-Phillips)


Frequenting a third place does wonders to both a person’s mental health and social life. In Amy’s words, it provides “a sense of community. You meet people you wouldn’t otherwise and adds a little extra flavor to your day.” While a good third place is hard to come by these days, it is an excellent investment to seek one out! It only takes one chance encounter to change your whole life! 











Putnam, R. D. (2002). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. Simon & Schuster.