Guest Editorial: The value of ‘third places’ to a thriving Cullman

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While it sounds simple, creating places where neighbors get to know neighbors is the key to growing a thriving place to live. That’s what Dr. Ray Oldenburg, an urban sociologist, describes in his book, “The Great Good Places.” If first places are our homes, and workplaces are second places, then “third places” are where we gather together to get to know, enjoy and learn from each other. I like to call this kind of informal gathering a stories telling place – absent of a pressing agenda, and open enough to become mutually meaningful.  

There are several “third places” in Cullman, including coffee houses such as Karma’s, Berkeley Bobs and Starbucks as well as Mae’s Food Hall and potentially the Cullman Farmer’s Market. There are four important features of a third place: 1) An establishment is intentional at organizing and designing itself to be a welcoming hang out space for everyone. 2) All who patronize the establishment feel welcome to be there. 3) Everyone who shows up to mingle with friends is also open to meeting strangers. 4) There are multiple conversations and lots of laughing.  

This kind of informal social connectivity is a rich soil where relationships are formed and deepened, ideas are created, solutions are discovered and visions are seeded. It’s when we gather together in the spirit of camaraderie that we discover indirect ways of solving problems. And, while this kind of social connectivity is itself one of the biggest solutions to the kinds of problems that many suffer with today, including depression and substance abuse, it is also a critical factor in the economic development of any city.

If all of this sounds too easy – it’s not. While critically important to the life of a city, many establishments with third place potential are populated by people captured by their electronic devices. Other places are not designed well enough to be the third place they could be. But, with the above benefits in mind, maybe we can be better at establishing, designing and attending third places- for the greater good of Cullman.  

Ron Pate, PhD (Portland State University), lives in Vinemont, AL & Roswell, GA. Ron consults with various organizations on processes for Getting to Good. Projects he has led in Alabama include, West Homewood Farmer’s Market and Woodlawn Stories. (ronalddavidpate@gmail.com)