Have you been to ‘3rd Place’ recently?

Have you been to ‘3rd Place’ recently?

Healthy communities have ‘3rd places’ – spaces where people gather together for no specific reason but to great purpose. Do we have enough of these in the Royal Docks? In The Great Good Place the American sociologist Ray Oldenburg suggests that we desperately need neutral venues for unplanned, voluntary and ‘playful’ interactions with neighbours. Whether it’s the barber’s in Jamaica, a coffee shop in Vienna or a British pub (in our popular imagination if not in reality!) these places have enormous positive social functions. 3rd places are where we can meet others without an agenda. Oldenburg claims that when we lose these spaces our civic society breaks down. We lose sight of the common good and are less inclined to resolve social challenges. 3rd spaces are vital for community health. Individually, we also suffer. We feel less connected, less secure, more isolated. It’s a powerful claim! One that can be overlooked in redevelopment and city planning. 3rd spaces may not appear immediately cost effective, especially where is ground is valuable, such as in the Royal Docks. However, Oldenburg suggests we take the longer view and factor in the true social value of connectedness and cohesion. Connected communities are more resilient, they have less anti-social behaviour and crime; they are places people want to stay. Are 3rd spaces luxuries, or places our cities cannot afford not to have?  It’s an urgent question to address before we turn our last remaining pubs into estate agents. Personally, we have to admit that we can get too busy within the 1st and 2nd places, of home and work, to access the 3rd places...
When is the last time you wanted to change the world?

When is the last time you wanted to change the world?

I have the privilege of teaching a course in inequality and social change at a local university. What strikes me is how conformist today’s students are. Is this related to the extent to which education has become focussed on passing exams rather than thinking critically? Students want to answer the question right. I want them to ask better questions. This upsets me. It upsets me when after teaching a series of lectures on racism one student asked, ‘Do I need to do this for the exam?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘You need to do this for life’. I don’t think they understood. So I put a question about racism in the exam. Increasingly my role is to coax original, critical thinking out of people who had been taught that all answers can be googled. What about you? When is last time you took Angela Davis’ advice that some things shouldn’t be accepted, but changed? Did this sentiment run out in the 70s? Not a bit of it. I know lots of young activists who don’t only get angry by injustice but get engaged fighting it. One former Britannia Village youth worker, Jonny Adams, came to East London from a rather sleepy and affluent part of Cambridgeshire. He was struck by the amount of street homelessness in the Capital and began to volunteer with a project in Tower Hamlets to address it. Driven by a faith that told him that injustice need not be accepted, he proceeded to set up a similar project in Newham. Read his story in the local Newham Recorder http://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk/home/east_ham_charity_boss_to_shelter_homeless_in_churches_1_4260599 This November the charity he founded, ‘NewWay’,...