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 we do have. In all honesty, we might resist the idea that we need to connect with our neighbours….only to complain about urban isolation and work/life balance.

The Royal Docks has minimal public, shared spaces where you might reasonably meet your neighbours. Why not browse through the ‘New to the Area’ pages and find a place, group or event to go along to. Find your 3rd place! A starting point, for those at home in the day – or working from home and needing  distraction – might be the Community breakfasts in BV Hall. They welcome everyone with a free coffee and croissant every Tues and Thurs from 8.45-10.30am (in term time).

Without 3rd places, can you really feel ‘at home’ where you live?