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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Third Places: Key Component of Rural Community Development

Mike Knutson at Reimagine Rural posts a great summary of why "third places" are essential to rural community development. Third places—you know, the coffee shop, the cafĂ©, the counter at Madison's NAPA store (?)... the place in town where folks gather and swap stories and people-watch. The place that feels like your whole town's living room. The public space outside your home, outside work, where you are free to claim a seat, be seen, and connect with your community.

The kind of space to which our Chamber of Commerce and LAIC have paid little attention in their quest to make Madison better. Julie, Dwaine, Jenny and Shaun Bader, everybody else with a stake in making small towns better, read Mike's list of what third places can do for Madison, Howard, and all small towns:
  1. Third places are cool…and rural places could stand a little cool.
  2. Third places introduce new people to the community.
  3. Third Places improve the quality of life in a community.
  4. Third Places are good for tourism.
  5. Third places can help improve the business climate in your small town.
  6. Third places stimulate creativity.
  7. Third Places help people age in place.
  8. Third Places can help create jobs. (Jobs, Dwaine! Jobs!!!)
  9. Third Places will never be replaced by social networking sites like Facebook.
  10. Third Places help build conversation …. and conversation leads to trust.
Brilliant! Read Mike's explanations on each of these points, then come out swinging for third places in your town!

p.s.: Jenny and Shaun, as you get ready to enter the third-place business with Mochavino, Mike and I recommend you read some Ray Oldenburg.


  1. I completely disagree. This is how information use to be passed. That is not how it works with my generation or anyone younger than me. If a place does not have an online presence it doesn't exist to us.

    Seriously, we just don't go looking around for places to meet. We hop online and find the places that others are meeting.

    Now, online existence is a bit nebulous. There are many places that are meeting places not because the business advertises online, but is due to facebook meet ups, forums, etc that are completely independent of the business.

    The bar scene in Rapid is an amazing example of this new behavior. One facebook posting can bring 100 warm bodies to your bar for the night or take them away. Similarly, the newly opened Casa Del Ray is floundering because of a similar posting.

  2. Tony,

    Let me make a connection, here. I think what you describe is right on, people need to be able to interact online, and they'll often do so about the places they frequent. At the RLC, we spend tons of time thinking about how rural communities and businesses can better present themselves online using social media--it has to be part of the equation today.

    But, I don't think that online interaction is a substitute for face to face human interaction. While plans may be made via Twitter or Facebook, you're still making plans to meet somewhere (potentially a third place).

    Our rural communities often don't have the places where people can go (cool bars, restaurants) to see and meet people, like is the case in Rapid. So, our suggestion is not that we revert to outdated communication methods, but rather than we build places where people can meet and have a conversation. It's an important part of healthy community life!

  3. Lindsey K! You and Tony know each other! You should find a good third place to sit down and talk about this more! Of course, you can talk about it here, and I've heard online spaces can be considered third places... but you can't get kolaches here. :-)

  4. Steve Sibson1/28/2010 5:31 PM

    There you go Cory, when are you going to start one and become a wealthy plutocrat?

  5. My husband and I own a Ma and Pa movie theatre in our town.
    It is just that kind of place, with couch and chairs, a game table where games of dominoes, whist and cribbage happen. Sometimes it's a pack of grown-ups, sometimes it's high school kids, occasionally it is a birthday party. Most of the time it is impromptu and a lot of fun. That is how we met Rebecca and Kelly!
    But rest assured, no wealthy plutocrats we. While we own the whole thing, lock stock and barrel, no loans, we have yet to draw a salary. It all goes back in to the place.

  6. Let my clarify my position. When CAH says:

    "the place in town where folks gather and swap stories and people-watch. The place that feels like your whole town's living room. The public space outside your home, outside work, where you are free to claim a seat, be seen, and connect with your community."

    These statements imply that there is some innate value that these meeting places supply. That is not the case for my generation. The meeting place is arbitrary. The value is the human interaction.

    In fact, our social arrangements are changing so much that geographic position no longer determines social bonds. It's not unusual to not know your neighbors. Thinking of a city spatially no longer works. It's best to think of them as multiple subgroups that happen to be co-located geographically. Position/geography do not matter. With my cell phone, I can video conference with my friends anywhere in the US in seconds. My cell phone is my third place...


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