Finding the Third Places
In his book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg explores the idea of place. Along with the primary home and work places, he identifies the idea of the "third place." Third places are environments of social respite -- a necessary counterpart to the busier side of life. Without them, one experiences a much higher stress level and a more isolated lifestyle. As defined by Ray Oldenburg, a place that exhibits "neutral ground and serves to level its guest to a condition of social equality" is called a third place. The third place is what could be considered a social tool for bringing a cohesiveness to a neighborhood of people. The cohesiveness is facilitated by a space that enables its customers to converse and interact on a level playing field away from the stresses of the common day. Third places "host the regular, voluntary, casual, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work." Oldenburg suggests that beer gardens, main streets, pubs, cafes, coffeehouses, post offices, and other third places are the heart of a community's social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy. The disappearance of the third places from the section of W. Lisbon Avenue between N. 37th Street and N. 39th Street indicates the decline of the neighborhood cohesion and community solidarity.
Through interviews, historical data collection, and census data analysis, it became apparent that much of the community, both built and lived, has vanished from this area of W. Lisbon Avenue. This section of W. Lisbon Avenue has very few socially cohesive properties in its present state. Much of the area is lacking the dynamics that grant a person the leisure that a third place could give them. Historically, W. Lisbon Avenue was a very social center of the neighborhood in which it exists. Many small, independently owned businesses once existed along the Lisbon strip. Restaurants were once abundant third places in the area. By its very nature, the small restaurant embodies the idea of the third place as a place where all people may gather and share an experience of repose while enjoying food or even just having coffee. Even the other small businesses in the area empowered a social environment. Art studios offered classes, hardware shops had large-scale tool demonstrations, even grocery stores, with their intimate size, encouraged social interaction. More so, with the owners of these businesses often being direct members of the community, without any other customers in a store, one still had the opportunity to interact with a member of their own community. Historic W. Lisbon Avenue had a thriving neighborhood cohesion brought on by the neighborhood businesses that catered to the nearby workforce. The delis, small grocers, and taverns that were once a part of the street all carried with them some of the major aspects of the third place. They provided a neutral ground, a socially level space, a space for conversation where one could see familiar faces. The atmosphere was playful and homey. The characteristics of the third place were evident in the structure of the neighborhood and were not always just limited to the walls of a building. The community had everything it needed within its borders; food, work, and play were all available within a short distance. The social gains of the close proximity between amenities helped to facilitate conversation and cohesion of the neighborhood's dwellers and users of its businesses.
The character of the independent spaces themselves was a great factor in social solidarity, but so too was the condition in which these spaces coexisted. The fact that many independent programs were contained within a single block or strip of street allowed the idea of the "in-between" space to solidify. Someone going to the grocery could easily cross paths with someone going to the hardware store or the flower shop. This consolidation of different programs was greatly responsible for an abundance of social opportunities, even outside of specifically purposed third places.
Today there is a much different story on W. Lisbon Avenue. Any business that exists on the strip is isolated and free-standing. There is no longer a collage of different purposes and programs, and the in-between spaces have bloated to the extent that they have become more separating, bounding features than unifying ones. Restaurants have entirely evacuated the community, and the closest ones to this area are fast food, often with drive-thrus that require no social interaction other than the limited interaction involved with ordering. The only apparent third places that still exist in the neighborhood are low-quality corner stores and bars. The businesses that once were nodes that contained the characteristics of Ray Oldenburg's third place were very dependent on the large industry in the area for their business, as was the economy of the entire neighborhood. As a result, the neighborhood's cohesion also fell with the decline as many began to pack up and leave the area for other work or due to a rise in the desire for a suburban lifestyle.
After deriving information from the current state of W. Lisbon Avenue through interviews, neighborhood walks, and historical research, it was found that a few assets still remain. W. Lisbon Avenue is currently in a transitional state to service the community needs of children and low income residents. The Urban Ecology Center, Washington Park Library, and organizations like Our Next Generation are all seen as education hubs and learning centers focused on children. It can be argued that the daycare centers within the community of W. Lisbon Avenue in Washington Park can help create third places by bringing community members, families, and friends together on outings with the children. By reworking Washington Park's empty lots and homes, better spaces can be created that can offer the traits that Oldenburg argues the third places provide. The daycares pull in people throughout the city who may notice the change within the community and invite their friends and families to these third places as well; however, conversation and interaction are key to make this grow and to develop the third place successfully. The arts community has also made a stand in the Washington Park neighborhood with establishments like Amaranth Bakery & Cafe and Express Yourself Milwaukee. Community establishments like grocery or hardware stores, mechanic shops, and sign making studios have all vanished from the neighborhood, along with anything else that could be considered a third place.
After some consideration, the conclusion was that W. Lisbon Avenue needs to regain the cohesiveness that once existed inside of its atmosphere in the past. The foundation that is created through the manipulation of space and the amalgamation of people towards a common desire like in Ray Oldenburg's third place would benefit the goal of regaining that once-prosperous atmosphere. The wealth of the community is no longer being sustained on big industry but, instead, on education and art, which has led to the conclusion of establishing a community area that would facilitate a cohesiveness between these neighborhood interests.
The need for social third places, where people may experience repose around other community members, is an important factor in the health of the community. The abundant corner stores often provide a band-aid replacement for this need but fall far short of providing a real haven from the world. People within the community are offered one form of escape from life -- their own homes, which may, in fact, be precisely what certain community members need respite from. The result is an idea of isolation. Having no place to escape from both home and work, the third place is split up and fragmented among the places that are actually available in day-to-day life. If a workplace must serve as a haven from home life, then it can no longer be purely a productive or focused work environment. If a home must provide repose from the workplace, any work or chores necessary to maintain that household may seem overbearing or unfair. The third place must be an available, neutral environment within a community, not only for social cohesion itself, but to provide individuals with the relief they need from their daily lives in order to be able to carry on.
Creating an open style gallery space for art with a coffee shop will accommodate the already well-established assets of the Washington Park neighborhood and will serve as a hub for new emerging ideas. The grounds would have an open outdoor space that welcomes the public with seating and a garden area. The gallery space will be open to the public as well with windows facing the open garden and outdoor seating. This new facility would accommodate educational lectures and host events like poetry nights. A very open design will help create an inviting space that has an allure that cultivates the idea of a third place, a place in which the residents can feel welcome, engaged, and included, and a place for conversation and a start of something new.