A few weeks ago, we had a newsletter article that referenced the term “Third Places“. The inclusion of the third place (
sometimes called “Third Space”) term resulted in a number of inquiries from readers. Third Place usually refers to a place that you like to hang out. Think of your favorite coffee shop, a park, an outdoor dining experience, etc. A “First Place” is a person’s home. A “Second Place” is an individuals place of work. Third places encourage a sense of comfort, familiarity, loyalty and ownership. The creation of these third places is consistently sought by businesses and communities as they seek to retain consumers and create quality of life for their residents.
The thought process behind “third place” is relatively new in terms of community and business planning- especially in the Midwest. Over the past decade, you’ve probably seen more open air markets, outside dining, “parklets” and the inclusion of “hang out” areas associated with businesses. Restaurants are activating sidewalks, bars have outdoor beer gardens, book stores have internal couch areas with tea, toy stores have jungle gym play areas. These places are designed to increase customer stay times, draw more consumers, increase the frequency of visits and produce “word-of-mouth” advertising. Although the creation of third places are a net positive for most businesses and communities, they do require expenditures and maintenance. Here are some things to consider:
1. Third Places must be readily accessible by pedestrian and bike traffic. These spots are designed as “hang outs”, so you need to give the general community access to the spaces where people are hanging out. If you have to cross a major road at speed, or the location of the third place isn’t readily accessible to the general population, you won’t have a successful third place.
2. Third places must have an emphasis on aesthetics, lighting and comfort. A patch of grass isn’t a third place. Putting a stage, lighting, benches, art and a water feature on that same patch of grass can create the foundation for a third place.
3. Third places require consistent programming. Theater, music, events, reading groups, etc. must meet consistently and utilize the space to create vibrancy within the area. Third places require an element of sustainability within their planning or they just won’t work.
4. There are location targets for public third places. Breezeways, underutilized parallel parking, side streets and vacant/underutilized lots can be converted to third spaces if people are generally in the area on foot now. Again, third places don’t start off as traffic drivers, but they do help retain traffic.
5. Private businesses can also generate third place areas. Businesses that have wide sidewalks, underutilized rooms, property lines that extend past their building footprint, contain outdoor “decks” because of their building design, internal square footage that they need to effectively utilize- all of these areas have potential to become third places. Third places work well for most retailers, restaurants and SOME services, but a business must ensure that the third space fits their brand image.
6. Third places must contain unique (and when possible) interactive elements. If you simply throw a couple of benches into a breezeway, it’s probably not going to get used for its intended purpose. However, if you put a spray park, public artwork and music in that same area (and program it), you will get consistent traffic. If your business just puts up a fence to capture outdoor square footage, you will occasionally get use. If you include games, site specific events, music and other interactive elements your third place can help drive and retain business traffic.
The old version of retail, restaurants and service based businesses functioned like a factory in the mind of a business. People came in, got their stuff and left. In the mind of the consumer, a growing segment yearn for “something to do” and access to cool places outside their home or work. Businesses and communities have to find creative ways to activate areas around their business, and they need to work with cities to develop third places in pedestrian oriented, dense areas. For communities and businesses willing to invest in themselves, investment in third spaces have tangible paybacks. Though things like “quality of life” are often an “eye of the beholder” type of investment, more people in proximity to locally owned businesses retains more wealth locally, creates more sales opportunities and creates unique community ties which helps retain youth.
If you are a business looking to create some third places associated with your building, Emporia Main Street has resources to help. If you are a citizen interested in the creation of third places for Emporia (or area communities), we have some examples that you can use. Contact Emporia Main Street for more information.