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.