Third Space First

The quickly growing number of third spaces is good news for both the social and the urban fabrics.

Read Time: 3 minutes

January 10, 2017, 9:00 AM PST

By Erling Fossen @streng1


Third Space

TheOldhiro / Shutterstock

Real estate used to be quite simple. Either you built houses where people lived (first space), or you built offices where people worked from 9 to 5 (second space). What a way to make a living. Then came mixed-use development, where you combined living, working, and leisure in the same area. New York got its first mixed use-zoning districts [pdf] as late as 1997. Now it's all about third spaces.

A local community group in Dublin gives the best and yet simplest explanation of the "third space" concept, defining third space as "places for local people to gather & eat easily, inexpensively & regularly, with space for creative, cultural and community activities."

If we dig below the surface of that definition, there exist two fundamentally different approaches to third space, though they are united by the core concept of human interaction. One is connected to an American nostalgia about great places and the erosion of social capital. Communities need places where people can interact and nurture common values. There can be no community without common values.

The other approach is connected to innovation and creativity. Third space connotes creative places where new ideas and start-ups are born. Third places can be co-working spaces, co-creation spaces, shared spaces, community spaces, social spaces, and more. At the center of all these approaches to third spaces are creativity and the desire to foster and commercialize new ideas. Even co-working spaces put their biggest effort in community building. In an ongoing global survey of co-working spaces, nearly 80 percent say the most important feature to attract new members is community building.

In the Western Hemisphere, the number of co-working spaces is increasing rapidly every year. Oslo had ten co-working spaces last year, and we're looking at 20 this year. Even the secretary of finance in Norway—Siv Jensen—visited a co-working space to learn about how Millennials work and play. When she visited Tøyen Start Up Village last year, she boldly stated that "the entrepreneurs are the real heroes" of our time.    

Commercial real estate used to be all about building new headquarters for Fortune 500-companies—or at least for a large single user with a 30-year lease. But end users are not what they used to be. There are many users occupying a single building—drop-in users, short-term users, and maybe a few long-term users. That means developers and designers have to create third spaces both inside and outside the building, where people can interact and capitalize on the ideas brought into existence during and after interplay. Without third spaces, there is no interaction, no attraction, and there are no users.   

Public places suffer in general because they don't generate profit. Both the public authorities and the real estate developers are constantly trying to push the responsibility over to each other. The contemporary quest for third spaces is, therefore, good news. Real estate development must be urban development, literally building its business model around the third spaces. Real estate developers must scrap their Excel sheets and the old business models, or somebody else will. Professional co-workings spaces like WeWork can offer medium sized companies a shared space in larger buildings. Another example, the extensive New Lab in the former Brooklyn Navy Yard, offers a roof and creative surroundings to all the hardware geeks in New York.

Real estate is no longer about buildings, but how we use the urban fabric to create communities that are economically and social sustainable. That's a completely new ball game for real estate developers. But it's very good news for the rest of us.


Erling Fossen

Born in Oslo in the year 1963. Recently finished my master thesis in Urban Geography at University of Oslo. Have written several books on political philosophy and cities. Amongst them EcstaCity (Pax 1996), Marx in Cyberspace (Tiden 1997), and Anti-Nature (Pax 2000).

Books

The Top Urban Planning Books of 2022

An annual list of the must-read books related to urban planning and its intersecting fields.

November 28, 2022 - James Brasuell

The  Rue Sainte-Catherine in Bordeaux is crowded with pedestrians in a lively European scene.

European Cities Act on Density

The sprawling mass of suburbia has been a disaster for the environment. But now smaller, denser cities herald a renaissance in city living.

November 20, 2022 - Wired Magazine

Victorian two-story buildings with retail shops in downtown Nashvile, Tennessee

Nashville Sets Downtown Parking Maximums

Nashville is the latest city to enact a substantive change to the parking requirements set by the city’s zoning code—doing away with parking minimums and setting parking maximums in the city’s Urban Zoning Overlay.

November 20, 2022 - The Tennessean

Home Sold Sign

Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae to Back $1 Million Mortgages

Expensive housing markets are about to cross a symbolic threshold.

7 hours ago - The Wall Street Journal

The land locked Salton Sea, seen from the air, is surrounded by mountains, desert, and farm land.

Controversial Agreement Yields Funding for Salton Sea Restoration

An unprecedented, but deeply controversial, agreement changes the equation for the Colorado River and the Salton Sea.

November 30 - Palm Springs Desert Sun

People examining parked goMARTI vans at launch event

Grand Rapids Tests First Rural Autonomous Shuttle

The town launched a five-vehicle fleet aimed at improving mobility for residents in the rural community.

November 30 - The Daily Yonder

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.