The ‘third place’ and the Glebe

by Rochelle Handelman

Café Morala, one of the Glebe’s “third places,” hosts a birthday party.
Photo: Christine Cowan

I recently learned of a community-building concept called the “third place,” which typifies many Glebe venues.

The third place refers to the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments: home (first place) and the workplace (second place).

Third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement and the establishment of a sense of place. The term was coined by American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his books The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through the Day (1989) and The Great Good Place (1991).

Some have argued that the Internet is also a third place. I disagree, as I feel that Oldenburg’s “third place” is a real place and not a virtual one. Some have coined the term “fourth place” in describing the Internet.

To satisfy Oldenburg’s definition of a third place, it should:

  • be inexpensive or free,
  • provide access to food and drink,
  • be a place to find new and old friends,
  • involve the congregation of “regulars” who habitually gather there,
  • be comfortable and welcoming,
  • be highly accessible.
  • Pete Myers has a similar list of characteristics:
  • neutral ground where people go of their own free will,
  • a leveller (a levelling place) where socioeconomic status does not matter,
  • where conversation is a main activity,
  • the mood in conversations is without tension or hostility,
  • good accessibility and accommodation,
  • regulars who set the atmosphere and make newcomers feel welcome,
  • a low profile where the decor has a homey feel,
  • a home away from home.
  • Third places have had an impact throughout history:
  • the agora (“gathering place”) in Greek democracy,
  • the French café during the French Revolution,
  • the London coffee house (Lloyd’s of London began as Lloyd’s Coffee House in 1688),
  • the American tavern and coffee house during the American Revolution.

Based on these criteria, the Glebe offers a variety of “third places.” Here are a few of my favourites:

I regularly go to Café Morala; in fact, I had my 65th birthday party there. I was one of four regulars who went to Morala after hours to see a free film. An equipment failure meant that the film was not screened, but we stayed and spent the next two hours discussing current affairs.

The Pantry, which closed its doors in June after 41 years, was another of my third places. Before it closed, CBC radio interviewed some of the patrons, including me, about what The Pantry had meant to us. The Pantry’s replacement, gcCafé, which opened October 11, has a similar but more modern ambience, with the added bonus of a French provincial couch, two antique-looking padded chairs and a coffee table. I was delighted to discover that the lunch menu was reminiscent of The Pantry’s fare.

I visit the Arrow and the Loon on the first Sunday of the month to listen to the Glebop Jazz Trio. I sit at a communal table and have a great time interacting with other patrons who share a love of jazz.

Other third places in the Glebe:

  • Irene’s, which not only serves food and drink, but offers musical performances and displays art,
  • The Wild Oat,
  • Bridgehead, where rumour has it that a knitting group regularly meets,
  • Octopus Books and its Centretown satellite,
  • Abbotsford House,
  • Glebe Community Centre,
  • Lionel Britton Park (a.k.a. the Tot Lot),
  • The dog park at Sylvia Holden Park,
  • Sunnyside Library and Black Squirrel Books, though not “in” the Glebe, are just over the Bank Street Bridge and are frequented by Glebites.

The Glebe has a new kind of third place, the parklet a sidewalk extension covering several spaces of a parking lane. Parklets offer a place to stop, sit and rest while taking in the activities of the street. Two were installed this year at Second and Third avenues at Bank.

What are your choices for “third places” in the Glebe?

Rochelle Handelman is a Glebe resident, who, before her retirement, was a population analyst at Statistics Canada. She has an Honours B.A. in Human Geography.

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