Published: Sep 06, 2008 07:03 PM
Modified: Sep 06, 2008 06:59 PM
Third places create social community
A lot of thinking can go into making things happen spontaneously
CARRBORO -- Communities have always had hubs of social activity and commerce. Even as the Internet expands, people still long for more personal interaction."Informal interaction is critical for both individuals and society and works best when people engage each other in a relaxed atmosphere," says Thomas Thiemann, professor of business at Elon College. "We really need places where unanticipated meetings with friends and neighbors can occur."Thiemann describes such community centers as "third places" because they are neither home nor work, our first and second places. "Third places add more dimensions to our lives and make our communities richer," he says. "A decline in third places leads to community decline as we find ourselves spending time alone or only with those we know well." Different public places have different atmospheres, but they share common features. Scott Conary worked hard to keep things intimate when the Open Eye Cafe more than tripled in size three years ago. His other third-place coffee shop -- Cafe Driade in Chapel Hill -- is in the style of a European cafe. "We are tucked away in the woods with a very unique atmosphere," he says.Conary learned the art of public space design by creating spaces where he would want to hang out. "We want everyone to feel comfortable," he explains. "Our furniture and decoration are eclectic on purpose. Everyone can find a favorite chair. We designed our spaces with lots of niches and crannies for the right mix of privacy and openness."Cat Moleski of Weaver Street Market says her workplace is committed to maintaining open access for all people regardless of their background or characteristics. The natural food coop with its popular front lawn is adding picnic benches outside and expanding its inside seating. "Because we are owned by over 15,000 members they have access and a greater say," she says. "We listen seriously to their needs and preferences of our shared community."Moleski has found that people sharing Weaver Street's third space are generally tolerant and accommodating. "We rarely have problems with dogs, kids or anything," she says. "Our staff are trained to deal with any difficulties that arise. For example, people that want to play music are encouraged to sit away from people who are trying to study."Open Eye provides a local clubhouse or meet-up space for community and artistic groups. "We provide the same function as a fraternal lodge," he says. "Anyone can reserve our back room to hold meetings or parties." Thiemann, who recently moved to Carrboro, says one of the habits people can lose when third places become harder to find is caring for common property. "Realizing that others also use a space will increase our awareness of others in the community and our environment," he says. "People learn to interact in large groups and show consideration for others when they are in public spaces they will visit again."Conary finds third places accommodate many styles of interaction, including none at all. "People who are connected to headsets and the Internet enjoy a self isolation, but they do not stop others from interacting," he says. "Even for those who prefer to work alone, they still like to look up and see other people."Moleski says Weaver Street encourages people to interact, even without buying anything. "Because our property is privately owned we are able to allow things to happen," she says. "Having just signed a 25-year lease we are committed to our community for the long term."
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2008 The Chapel Hill News