✨ Wellness Wisdom vol.38: what is the third place? (pt.1 of the third place series)

third spaces, dating different arguments, Japanese morning routines

Welcome to Wellness Wisdom - A newsletter for the thoughtful by Patricia Mou. A medley of resources and thoughts on wellness start-ups, personal development, spiritual growth and philosophy.

Support this publication by joining me down the rabbit hole 🕳🐇

Hello thoughtful humans!

I’m writing to you from San Francisco while listening to Magic Mind’s flow playlist.

Today I find myself at another juncture before i’m off to a new home 🗽. In this cocoon of time, I oscillate between reflection and planning. Between unpacking all that i’ve learned in Taipei, and packing the mental belongings I want to bring forward.

Being in liminal space feels like i’m standing outside of time. A state between origin and destination. Two ways of being. Almost like a meditation that invokes the whole consciousness, instead of a pigeonholed awareness.

Darkness obscures and sunlight reveals, but dusk– that liminal moment in between–murmurs suggestions.

— Pamela Petro, ‘Shedding Light’

In this moment, I’m trying my best to stand still and just be. What does my body and mind need today, this hour, this minute, right now? I wrote down a framework that I hope will help you ground in the present as well:

Onto today’s newsletter:

  • a essay series on third spaces

  • dating different arguments

  • Japanese morning routines

As I step through the doorway, nutty coffee aromas wash over my senses. Creamy hues and textures mute the brutalist environment from steps just prior. Sunlight illuminates dust specks swirling above steaming ceramic cups. On light cedar blocks, bodies sprawl in conversation. Shoulders sag. Eyes crinkle. Light jazz melts into a silky concoction of hushed voices. In between bites of a buttery croissant, a mind slowly inhales sentences from a creased book. The barista nods at me in silent acknowledgement. I am home. 

I’m willing to bet we all have that one space. You know, a home outside of our homes.

A place that doesn’t demand anything from us, yet gives us a sense of fullness and familiarity. Amongst a sea of strangers, we can choose to be blissfully alone or huddle over a miniature table with a friend.

We are simultaneously a free agent and a node within a web of anonymous human souls. 

Recently I learned that there’s a name for this sacred place: the third space. And it was defined in 1989 by Professor Ray Oldenburg, an American urban sociologist who studied  the importance of informal public gathering places for a functioning civil society.

In this 3-part series, I want to share my thoughts on:

  • Part 1: A definition of third spaces and what they are.

  • Part 2: The state of third spaces in America today.

  • Part 3: The future of third spaces: virtual and physical. 

So, what is a third space? 

The third place is a concept which identifies places which are not home (first place) or work (second place).

As ‘informal public gathering places’, they are places of refuge, where people can eat, drink, relax, and commune in order to develop a sense of belonging to a place. They are gathering places where community is most alive and people are most themselves.

Third places are important because they act as ‘meditation between individuals and the larger society’ and increase a sense of belonging and community. 

Oldenburg attributes 8 distinguishing characteristics in defining third places: 

  1. ◻️ Neutral ground or common meeting place: individuals are free to come and go as they please with little obligation or entanglements with other participants. 

  2. 🌈 Levelers or places that encourage, and are inclusive of, social and cultural diversity: Spaces in which an individual’s rank and status in the workplace or society at large are of no import. Acceptance and practice is not contingent in any prerequisites, requirements, roles, duties, or proof of membership. 

  3. 💁‍♀️Regular patrons. Includes a cadre of regulars who attract newcomers and give the space its characteristic mood. 

  4. 🧘‍♂️ Low profile and informal places: Characteristically homely and without pretension. 

  5. Places which foster a playful atmosphere. The general mood in third places is playful and marked by frivolity, verbal word play, and wit. 

  6. 🏡 A home away from home. Home-like in terms of Seamon’s (1979) five defining traits: rootedness, feelings of possession, spiritual regeneration, feelings of being at ease, and warmth. 

  7. 💬 A place where conversation is the primary activity and playfulness and wit are collectively valued. 

  8. ♿️ Places that are easy to access and accommodate various sedentary and active activities: Must be easy to access and are accommodating to those who frequent them. 

Examples of Third Spaces

🌎 Follow me as we travel back in time and distance to third spaces around the world.

🛁 Bathhouses & hot springs. Some of the earliest descriptions of western bathing practices came from Greece. Bathing regimens formed there created the foundation for modern spa procedures.

In 300 AD, bathing became a major part in ancient Roman culture and society. It was one of the most common daily activities in Roman culture and was practiced across a wide variety of social classes. Courtship was conducted, as well as sealing business deals, as they built lavish baths on natural hot springs.

Over in Japan, the first mention of hot springs is referenced in the Nihon Shoki, which was written in the second half of the 1st century. Today, they serve as a fun and relaxing way for friends, colleagues, families, and couples to not only decompress from the busy city life, but also to strengthen social bonds.

🍻 German-American Lager Beer Gardens. When Germans came to America, they brought with them their beer gardens. They believed at the base of a viable community life, lay informal socializing.

One such emblem of the Beer Garden was the Atlantic Garden, one of New York’s most celebrated beer gardens. Inclusiveness was central to the coveted atmosphere of the lager beer garden. The mixing of nationalities, presence of women, co-mingling of the rich and poor, and frequent instances in which three generations had fun together at the same time and in the same place—these were the more striking signs of inclusiveness.

Those who came to meet and know one another in the happy informality of the beer gardens went on to form drama clubs, debating societies, singing groups, rifle clubs, home guards, volunteer fire departments, fraternities, and associations dedicated to social refinement. It was the basis of community. 

🌇 Main Street. In many small cities in America, the heart of the community was always along a 6-7 block radius called Main Street. No resident had to walk more than 4 blocks to reach Main Street.

People often walked slowly and with open and expectant faces. Business establishments invited community members in without the need to extract their money. People stopped by the barbershop to swap stories, glance through the latest magazines, and enjoy the sweep of a large electric fan.

Cities across America up until 1940, had retained the ability to amuse and entertain one another without much need of commercialized diversions. As a direct result, the associational community and habits of cooperation were strong. However from 1973 onwards, U.S. News and World Report contended that the shopping mall began to replace Main Street as the core of community belonging in America.

📚☕️ Bookstore-café’s in Asia. The recent emergence of Bookstore-cafe’s indicate a change of lifestyle occurring in the contemporary big cities of Asia. Many studies have pointed out that the Chinese version of the bookstore-café is one of the most important recreational sites for the youth in China’s urban communities. 

The bookstore-café, which is a modern concept, is a combination of two traditional places—a bookstore and a café shop. It is not merely a space for book lovers, but a venue for people to enjoy their books while sipping their favorite cup of coffee with or without their friends.

🕯 The English Pub. The proliferation of pubs, averaging 4 per square mile, means that for virtually every English man and woman, a pub exists close by. Because of their neighborhood proximity, pubs are also known as “locals.” Every pub-goer has his or her local and every pub is someone’s local.

As pubs are built to the human scale, they are intimate, even cozy settings, designed more for an immediate neighborhood than a horde of transients and sometime visitors. Its lack of formality and pretension dates from that of the kitchen in the early wayside inn, the first version of the English pub. 

From its inception, the pub has catered its architecture to ones desired level of engagement. The Public Bar is made for organic mixing of conversations and people, while the Saloon bar affords a more intimate setting for a smaller group.

🏋️‍♂️ Chinese Urban Parks or “Senior Playgrounds” - Rather than solo runners or cyclists, the most common demographic in Chinese parks are large groups of elderly pensioners.

Early every morning crowds of elderly people flock to public parks for their daily exercise routine, including dancing, Qiqong or even light gymnastics. Many take advantage of exercise equipment like ellipticals and pulldown machines aimed at light cardio workouts and gentle strength training. In a recent survey, retirees went to the park for on average 26 days per month in China.

It is precisely because of the increasing size of the elderly population, the increase of leisure time, the decrease of urban transportation cost, and the reduction of park free costs, that enable Chinese parks to cater to the psychology of the elderly.

🇫🇷 The French Cafe. The antecedents of the French bistro or sidewalk café emerged about 500 years ago with the world’s first coffeehouses in Saudi Arabia. From Mecca, they may be traced to Constantinople and eventually to Vienna, where the coffeehouse was introduced with remarkable success.

Today, Paris has thousands of sidewalk cafés, or an incredible “1 café to about every 50 people.” They consist of an outdoor and one or two indoor areas, the most important being the terrasse, or the outdoor tables and chairs.

It is said that a french cafe consists of “2/3 atmosphere and 1/3 matter.” 

The bistro provides an immediate political forum and is a favorite place for writing letters and books as well. The capacity of these environments to inspire author and artist has become legendary. For example, Café de Flore has a rich history of being a hub for famous writers and philosophers; Pablo Picasso, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, and Jean-Paul Sartre were once frequent patrons. 

🍵 The Asian Tea House. In Asia, a teahouse is traditionally a place which offers tea to its customers. Tea houses first popped up during the Jin Dynasty (265-316 AD) and evolved to become a meeting place where local celebrations, business meetings, and friendly rendezvous were held daily. They became an instrumental fixture in the nucleus of provincial towns and cities throughout Chinese and Japanese history.

Today people continue to gather at teahouses to chat, socialize and enjoy tea. While old staples exist - like the Pujiang Tea Garden in Chengdu or Kantoku-tei Teahouse in Tokyo - modern renditions like HeyTea are evolving for younger audiences.

☕️ Classic Coffeehouses

They say that Coffee spurs the intellect; alcohol the emotions. 

Vienna was the site of some of the first coffeehouses in Europe.

The Vienna coffeehouse is the place for them all, a meeting place for lovers, a club for people of common tastes or interests, an office for the occasional businessman, a resting place for the dreamer, and a home for many a lonely soul.

To this day it serves as the major social center for Viennese life. Like the French bistro, the Vienna café typically extends into the street. Whereas the former boasts a terrace, the latter offers a garden.

Inside, suited waiters create an atmosphere of personalized accommodation and exceptional service. Customers are often greeted by two, even three, waiters upon their appearance. After a few visits their names are known, as are their preferences in reading material and the way they take their coffee.

In 1650, a Jewish man remembered only as Jacob opened the first coffeehouse in Oxford. The democratic atmosphere of the coffeehouse, its equally democratic prices, and the pleasant contrast it offered to the drunkenness that plagued the inns and taverns of the 17th century brought it quick popularity.

During its reign, the coffeehouse was the center of business and cultural life as well as a political arena. Whether on a regular schedule or not, many Londoners dropped into the coffeehouse several times a day in order to keep abreast of the news. 

These are just a sampling of third spaces and are no way exhaustive across all cultures and use cases.

As you can see, history is rich in its examples of third places. And for good reason, as they bolster the mental health and well-being of individuals and communities.

However, in a time of rapid urbanisation where 75% of the population will be living in cities by 2050, there is a critical need to revisit third places as a possible contribution to easing increasing levels of anxiety and loneliness.

In America, studies suggests that we’ve lost half of the casual gathering places that existed at midcentury—places that hosted the easy and informal, yet socially binding, association that is the bedrock of community life.

Old neighborhoods and their cafés, taverns, and corner stores have fallen to urban renewal, freeway expansion, and planning that discounts the importance of unified residential areas.

Why is this happening and how have we been coping today?

That’s for part II.



P.S. what’s your favorite third space? message me back 💌

🔍 Sleep around before you marry an argument

love this idea of not just reading about a subject directly when you want to learn about it, but reading around it. We are taught to just go with the direct/census approach to reading about a subject in school. However, it might serve our understanding best if we slut it up before we start writing.

 “Reading around a subject is about going beyond the object of study to unpack, examine, or pick apart what the person or the object of study represents. That is usually where the good stuff is. The fun stuff.”

🤖 Being scored through our data feeds the fantasy that we are essentially knowable

That we can know ourselves completely and totally, taking into account all the implications and ramifications of the various traits we possess.

Algorithms promise a simple solution to the riddle of the self, should we want one. They promise the certainty that data alone suffices to make a self — just generate data and you are significant, a somebody, a unique identification number at the very least. One can accept the ready pleasure of consumerism rather than pursue the freedom of autonomy, which is always imperfect and requires boundless innovation in our techniques of resistance.” 

We want so badly to have certainty in who we are. Instead, does the answer actually lie in the certainty of the uncertainty? Is freedom knowing that we are and always will be undefined?

💬 Why you should be unreachable

Most things are a distraction, especially in the startup and tech world. If you get to the core of building companies it's about creating a great product that gets customers that pay for it. If you get to the core of life it's living an existence you're proud of with people you love doing the things you like while minimizing suffering. None of these two probably involve being available for endless chit-chatting to billions of people in private messages

🧠 If you have to choose between two theories, prefer the one that doesn't center on you

As thinking animals, I sometimes think our constant desire to overanalyze and seek meaning from noise can get the best of us at times. In this essay, Paul Graham encourages us to not see purpose where there isn’t one. Or in other words, see randomness.

💌 I curate the most thoughtful pieces on the Internet at Rabbit Holes with Patty. Consider joining if you want to support me as a writer and curator.

🎵 lofi.cafe

been jamming to this collection of lofi radios lately

☀️ A collection of Japanese morning routines

It’s like next level ASMR for the morning routine lover

Thank you for being part of The Wellness Wisdom newsletter today.

I’m Patricia and have a full-time job but curate this newsletter in my free time as a labor of love.

This newsletter is free because I believe everyone deserves to have access to wellness resources. If you want to support this publication, join me down the rabbit hole 🕳🐇.