The Resurgence of the “Third Place.”

The Resurgence of the “Third Place.”

Back in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a study about the general trend of people moving to, and living in, cities rather than sprawling out into suburbs as seen in the baby boomer generation of decades past (US EPA). The Obama administration in 2010, issued a livability initiative in which it contributed $100 million to sustainable development in cities and regions all over the United States. Since 2000, in more than half the major cities in the  United States, infrastructure development and sustainable development has doubled (Nelson). Although people are moving to the cities for economic, environmental and social reason, there are deeper more priceless reasons like a sense of place and enlightened growth. Cities provide opportunities that are not available in the suburbs like centralized employment, a wider range of entertainment, and a sense of place. In regards to sustainability, which more and more young adults are caring about, the city lifestyle is more environmentally friendly because it is more efficient to heat and cool apartment buildings (saving on utility bills), people do not have to drive to get to work, school, and entertainment areas (which all saves on gas money), and people generally take up less land with such high population density. Although  a fair amount of cities in the United States are rapidly shrinking, it’s still possible to provide extremely reasonable and affordable housing to young people while conserving the metropolitan feel through urban planning without sacrificing the lifestyle that young adults desire.

Baby boomers can also benefit from these same things that millennials are benefiting from in moving into cities. Even as baby boomers are retiring and not necessarily looking for employment, they could benefit from more affordable and compact housing. City apartments have smaller square footage, which could be more manageable in upkeep, and cheaper, depending on which city they are living in. Secondly, it lets people get out of their homes to go to grocery stores, pharmacies, and other amenities within walking distance. In turn, cities prevent isolation that is often associated with the aging generation. Often times the older generations feel lonely and isolated in their retired environments so moving into the city could create a more defined “third place.”

The aforementioned “Third Place” created by Ray Oldenburg, is the idea that there are three different places in people’s lives that contribute to a healthy lifestyle and societal development. The first place is the home; he defines it as a private area of someone’s life where they sleep and where their families live. It’s where the most intimate details of their lives are safeguarded. The second place is work. It is where the average person spends most of their day and how individuals create a living to support their lifestyle in the first and third place (Randolph). The third place is the social surroundings in someone’s life, for example cafés, coffee shops, barber shops, pubs, libraries, parks, and everything in between. This “third place” creates a sense of belonging for the residents of the area and people in general (Oldenburg). For example, Paris, Portland, and Cape Cod are all different areas with different climate and population but they all have a sense of belonging and place. When people think of these aforementioned places, a specific picture comes into their minds.  Municipality and city planners have a vision and an idea about how to create thriving “third place” and subsequently this sense of belonging in the areas they work in. Finally, the idea of a“third place” discussed by Oldenburg even has some historical backing. It is argued that big movements like the French Revolution and the Enlightenment were talked about and thought up in coffee shops and pubs throughout Europe.

It can be argued that the suburbs of the United States that resulted from the urban sprawl movement in the 1950s do not have this sense of place as much. Created with standardization and a strong sense of the “first place” in mind, means there are fewer amenities in suburb towns in addition to the varying degree of difficulty to get places because virtually everyone needs a car to get anywhere. For instance, the average commute from home to work in the United States is 25.4 minutes. That’s an hour a person spends isolated in their car just going to and from work not even all the other potential errands in a day. City living seeks to eliminate that isolation and wasted time.

Overall, it seems that the trend amongst Americans is that of moving into cities. Despite the crash of the housing market in 2008 and the recession that followed, millennials are primarily finding their footing in compact city apartments that provide them with opportunities without breaking the bank, but again depends on the city. It is not necessarily New York City and Los Angeles like it was in the past. This American dream looks drastically different than those of generations past with or without any initiatives from the government.



Nelson, Gabriel. “‘Smart Growth’ Taking Hold in U.S. Cities, Study Says.” Greenwire/ NYTimes, 24 Mar. 2010,

Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place: Cafes Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Marlowe and Company, 1999.

Randolph, John. Environmental Land Use Planning and Management. Second, IslandPress, 2012.

US EPA. Residential Construction Trends in America’s Metropolitan Regions. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Jan. 2010.

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