Urban Sociologist Ray Oldenburg, in his book The Great Good Place: Café, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through the Day (1989) has highlighted the importance of spaces that provide opportunities for social interaction, connectedness and, if really successful, community formation.
As defined by Oldenburg (Ibid.), third places, as distinct from domestic or workplaces are social levellers, neutral ground and a place of comfort and conversation. They offer the potential to foster personal and neighbourhood identity through a sense of attachment and, ultimately, community.
Culture seems to affect the way in which third places manifest. The British dwell in pubs, the Chinese dance on the streets at dusk yet there seems to be no obvious New Zealand equivalent. Despite our British colonial history, the local pub is not integrated in New Zealand suburban form or function, which seems to be overwhelmingly domestic. For the most part, neither have our marae and papakāinga spatial arrangements influenced New Zealand’s urban settlements.
Encouraging the vibrant social life of New Zealand’s public spaces has spatial implications, yet we do not yet know enough about how people use urban spaces and how these can foster social capital and cohesion in the context of Aotearoa. This project explores the potential of third places for promoting community cohesion and active citizenship using a co-creation methodology drawing in young and older New Zealanders as collaborators on the project.
It asks: (a) where do New Zealanders, congregate outside of work and home life, (b) does this constitute the occupation of a third place; if so, what kinds of interaction take place that define it as such? (c) Does access to third place impact on the strength of communities and active citizenship? (d) Do different cultural and ethnic groups within New Zealand gravitate to different types of third place? (e) What are the spatial characteristics of successful third places and how can urban design integrate these insights into planning liveable cities? And ultimately, (f) is Oldenburg’s third place notion relevant to the New Zealand context?