As inner city precincts in key New Zealand cities continue to evolve to offer broad-ranging social meeting places such as niche bars, good-vibe cafes, and urban playgrounds with street food vendors and live music, the concept of “third places” is being consolidated.
The term “third place” was championed by American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, who talked about the role that bars, cafes and other social spaces play in peoples’ lives.
Home is “first place” and work is “second place”.
Third places, argues Oldenburg contribute to community vitality and an individual’s sense of well-being.
Home life is private, work life is – well, work – and then there’s the places you go to unwind, connect, share and relax.
City centres do this third place concept very well. Just look at the new hospitality venues that spring up almost weekly in New Zealand’s metropolitan areas and the social media hustle to engage and attract patronage from CBD dwellers and city commuters.
Suburbia tends not to embrace the concept quite as energetically and herein lies a chance for entrepreneurial businesses to leverage off lower rents and a residential base of clients nearby to create desirable third places.
Retail spaces in suburban shopping centres and formerly-vibrant strip retail streets are more readily available than in the congested inner city market and are ripe for fresh business eyes.
A recent article on Australia’s ABC News site by Peter Walters, a senior lecturer in sociology at The University of Queensland, discusses the gentrification of inner-city suburbs — places like West End in Brisbane, Fitzroy in Melbourne and Newtown in Sydney — which are typified by independent owner-operated retail businesses. In Auckland, think K’Road and Ponsonby.
The article highlights the busy cafes, bars and restaurants and focuses on “hipsters” – the cool (typically) young things – who are showing the city how to create contemporary, accessible and successful third places.
The outer suburbs are not so well-endowed with these kinds of places to meet, as suburban retail big box precincts are usually anchored by a supermarket chain and supported by franchised outlets and national brands which dilutes the personal experience. There are unwelcoming swathes of concrete car parking and little sense of community connection.
The ABC article says that the inner city boasts a culture of “hip and edgy” through alternative music and art, underground fashion and an entrepreneurial start-up business culture.
“This in turn creates demand for a range of retail outlets, such as artisanal bakers, micro-breweries, tattoo artists, vintage fashion shops, vinyl record stores, independent bookstores and, most importantly, abundant bars and coffee shops.”
As more people opt to work nomadically or from home, the suburbs have the opportunity to meet a demand for social spaces and business operations.
Let the third place concept lead the way!
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