Third Places and the Social Life of Streets

Mehta, V. & Bosson, J.K.

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Mehta, V., & Bosson, J. K. (2010). Third places and the social life of streets. Environment and Behavior, 42(6), 779-805.

Main Street , Physical Qualities , Social , Social Interaction , Third Place , Urban Design

Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg defines a third place as a place of refuge other than the home or workplace where people can regularly visit and commune with friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even strangers. Because little is known about the place-based physical qualities of third places that support sociability and place attachment, this article examines how four urban design characteristics distinguish third-place businesses from other businesses on the Main Street. The article discusses a study conducted at Main Streets in two cities and one town in Massachusetts. As part of the study, visual surveys measured urban design qualities of businesses on the Main Streets, and interviews helped determine user perceptions. The findings suggest that third places are relatively high in both personalization (distinctiveness, recognizability) and permeability to the street, but seating and shelter provisions are perhaps the most crucial urban design characteristics that contribute to sociability on the Main Street.

Main finding
The Main Street is selected as a third place that supports sociability and place attachment. Third places are considered destinations for social interactions varying for different kind of residents, however its physical characteristics are unclear. Four physical design characteristics of businesses are studied to understand the relationship between the environment and human behavior: personalization, permeability, seating and shelter. The results show that personalization and permeability are to lesser extent important, whereas seating and shelter are more important and particularly provided by businesses that are considered third places which increase sociability and comfort. Policy makers should retain and support small businesses and third places for their social and design contribution to the quality of public space.

Description of method used in the article
The cases have been selected based on its identical appearance, combination of third places and non-third places and variety of the four urban design characteristics. Six to ten blocks on three main streets have been selected in in three different cities/towns. Face-to-face interviews were conducted for defining and determining a third place. Visual surveys were employed to measure the characteristics of the settings

Of practical use

Organising categories

Field Observations Interviews
Urban Design
Physical types
Geographic locations