May 20, 2007

Searching for Third Place

Working in the social sector I often refer to the concept of Third Place when it comes to building community around a non-profit organisation. The idea is that in our lives most of us have a first, second and third place in which we dwell. First is usually home, second work and third traditionally has been a communal, comfortable place where we connect with like minded people. In the past this could have been a religious group or perhaps an art group. In modern times it is often Starbucks or a favourite pub.

Third place has taken on new meaning in the cyber age. As I keep moving around the world I maintain a string of internet linkages to my family and friends that is fast becoming my third place. For instance, this blog may very well be my third place. I write a tidbit about my happenings every few days and trust that there are people out there reading my notes. It is a bit one sided except for a few readers who write comments. So, is it really a community that I’m building or more of a voice I keep putting out there to maintain some kind of continuity and presence?

I am in search of a third place that takes me beyond the computer screen since that already occupies much of my work day. The etching course I took allowed me to do something different from the day to day ordinary. It feels like perhaps the studio could be my third place, reminiscent of my college years happily spent in the darkroom.

But really my third place needs to thread through my life on a daily basis. In San Francisco and even to some extent Houston this came in the form of all the organisations in which I was involved. My closest friends were the people that were also passionate about these projects. I have yet to make this kind of community connection in London.