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Searching London for My ‘Third Place’

Illustration by J.S. Graboyes

Jessica Brown | Longreads | July 2017 | 10 minutes (2,605 words)

 

After a quick stop at a Jamaican food stall at the outdoor Borough Market, I parted with my lunchtime companion and began my solitary journey through the heart of London, with City Hall on my right, the Thames to my left and the low winter sun above me. Though most of my walks through the city tended to be directionless — at least mentally, if not also geographically — today I had a purpose: I was looking for my “third place.”

Home and work, I had read that morning, are our first and second places, respectively, and the third place is a sociable one we choose for ourselves as somewhere that helps root us in our communities, and promotes social equality. Or at least that’s the ideal, according to sociologist Ray Oldenburg, who coined the phrase in 1989 in his book, The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. “Nothing contributes as much to one’s sense of belonging as much as ‘membership’ in a third place,” he wrote.

My first place is a flatshare in North London — an area characterized alternately as middle class; an area overrun with affluent, well-groomed “yummy mummies”; and as the intellectual hub of London. It’s the family-friendly part of the city, but it’s also rapidly falling victim to the kind of hipster gentrification that has already affected its trendier cousin, East London. It also has some of the city’s poorest and most crime-ridden areas, such as Tottenham, where unarmed 29-year-old Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police in 2011, sparking the infamous London riots.

My second place, an office in Kensington, the richest borough of London — provides me with a vastly different version of the city than my first place.

I needed to find my third place, the place that could connect the authentic me, the persona I am at home, with my surroundings — with my wider home. Since moving to London from the north of England five years before, something had been missing for me — some deeper connection with the city. I hoped finding my third place would give personal meaning to the random masses of concrete and strangers I happened to live among.

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