Creating Atlanta’s “third places” for all – rich, poor and every one in between

By Saba Long

Earlier this week, I took advantage of a rare evening of sunshine to enjoy sushi and sake outside at Strip in Atlantic Station.  While dining, I watched young children playing tag, couples chatting on benches, a photo shoot taking place, amongst other activities.

My thoughts drifted to a recent The Urbanist podcast from Monocle featuring Dr. Ray Oldenburg, who coined the term, the “third place.”  Our private home is considered our “first” place while our “second” place is the work environment.

“Life without community has produced, for many, a life style consisting mainly of a home-to-work-and-back-again shuttle. Social well-being and psychological health depend upon community. It is no coincidence that the ‘helping professions’ became a major industry in the United States as suburban planning helped destroy local public life and the community support it once lent,” Oldenburg notes.

This is no new notion. Seventeenth century London experienced a news revolution through unique, public coffee houses. These public spaces allowed for a diverse exchange of information ideas leading to the creation of The Guardian, the insurance industry and even the stock market.  They were the original co-working spaces, if you will.

Starbucks embraces this notion, calling their stores “a place for conversation and a sense of community” and a “third place between work and home.”

Other third places are barbershops, religious centers and public parks.

In the podcast, Oldenburg notes the lack of affordable residential access many cities are wrestling with. “We want vitality, and you don’t get it if downtown is largely cold corporate towers,” he comments.

For downtown Atlanta, this has long been a point of concern for residents, business owners and other interest groups. Central Atlanta Progress should be commended for its third place enhancements to Woodruff Park and the Fairlie-Poplar district.

Patrons can read a book or sit and observe their surroundings at its Reading Room. The exercise bars allow the office worker or student to get a few reps in and blow off some steam. Just a few steps away are restaurants sure to appease even the pickiest eater. Also in the vicinity are barbershops, a public library and, of course, public transportation. Woodruff Park is lively because of its diverse patrons.

Vitality in the public space requires inclusion. To be sure, in Atlanta we have successful pockets of third places. However as our city focuses on fostering density – particularly around the BeltLine and Atlanta Streetcar – the price of access to the third place ought to be at the forefront of designing and managing our city. It is difficult to create density with affordability.

Transportation and housing spending dominate the family monthly budget. It’s why equitable access was a sticky issue during the 2012 regional transportation referendum in areas such as south DeKalb.  The history of inequity in placemaking in Atlanta, and the region, is generally avoided in civic discussions; therefore, it is generally ignored in present and future planning.

A third place set to open later this year is Ponce City Market, formerly known as City Hall East. For upwardly mobile city residents such as myself, it will be an instant hot spot – an addition to our various third place pockets of culture and activity. But upon hearing of the retail concepts and housing options at Ponce City Market, it seems equity and affordability have not been part of the planning process.

The same goes for Westside Provisions. And it seems nearly every new development in Atlanta.

The physical environment can engender powerful social interactions and a sense of place and belonging. We feel its impact on places like the BeltLine trails and as a result of events such as Atlanta Streets Alive.

It is imperative that this sense of place, the third place, is a product of an equity-focused place-making process.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

5 replies
  1. jonslay says:

    i would agree with the argument maybe if you’re trying to become a tenant in PCM. but you also mention the adjacent public beltline in nearly the same breath and there’s a MASSIVE public park directly across the street from pcm. how much cake do you want?
    housing and transport are the biggest slices of people’s budgets because they choose them to be. there’s plenty of inexpensive housing and transport options available that people simply turn their nose up at or allocate to the ‘oh that’s not for me’ and ‘i deserve better’ realm.Report

    Reply
  2. racarate says:

    great article, i always try to think of “benches i can sit at without guilt for not spending money” as experienced in malls and coffee shopsReport

    Reply

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