Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Placemaking is about helping a place become somewhere people want to stay in instead of somewhere people can’t wait to get out of. Third places can be an important part of that effort. Not only are they pleasant places to be, they are places where residents discuss their aspirations for the place, cook up projects to make those aspirations a reality and in general keep informed.

Cafés, outdoor public places, the library, civic centers, are the usual things that come to mind when one hears of third places. Civic organizations are third places for many people, especially in the sense that people come together to take on community projects. Recreation groups could be third place communities for civic projects, too, since the discussions among parents watching their kids’ games may turn to such issues (perhaps between episodes of being little league parents). Adult recreational athletes who get together after the game might end up discussing local events. Anything that brings local people together can be thought of as a third place. The more it promotes deliberate discussion, the better.

I’m curious about on-line communities as third places. The book “A Different Kind of Engagement” described how on-line communities are part of the civic engagement of youth (and countered the decline of civic engagement described in the book “Bowling Alone”). Recently the rural development website reimaginerurual.com, based in South Dakota, described the large number of South Dakotans on facebook (http://reimaginerural.com/tech-trendy-south-dakota/ ) and how that could be serving the role of a third place. Other posts on reimaginerural also described how tools such as Front Porch Forum (http://www.frontporchforum.com) have helped bring communities together.

I started this blog learn about how sense of place informs peoples’ lives. I wanted to post my thoughts and have others respond. Thanks to those of you have. Keep ‘em coming. I also have learned about sense of place from other people’s blogs. But blogs don’t seem to be interactive enough to be a third place. The facebook page keeps like-minded people informed and connected regarding sustainability topics and events in our town is fine, but it does not seem to be quite the right venue for discussions either. Facebook seems to be more for quick check-ins.

So I return to my question about how on-line communities can act as third places for discussion of community development/sustainability/conservation/sense of place. There’s an interesting set of articles in the scientific literature about how gaming communities can act as third places for youth, but that’s exactly the opposite of what I’m after. I want people to see how people within a geographic community can come together on-line to discuss _their_ community, not a fictional life, not a virtual community but a virtual gathering spot for a real community. How to get people engaged in on-line discussions?

I use on-line discussion tools in some of my classes. They’re not that different than tools we use to generate discussions in face-to-face classes. As an instructor, I can’t just say ‘what do you think?’ or ‘any comments?’ I need to pose prompts that are pertinent to students, that help them get into the topic. But it’s a bit easier with students – they are trying to earn a grade. Getting busy people to take time to articulate a response in an on-line community is not easy. People have to see the benefits of making time to respond. I would think it would have to be timely, concrete topics or current projects. I’ll keep working on that, but if you have examples of particularly effective techniques for promoting participation in on-line communities related to place-making, let me know. It may be that, as with university classes, a hybrid approach is best (periodic face-to-face supplemented by on-going on-line discussions/check-ins).


  1. The past 2-3 years have seen a large push to utilize social networks and interactive web sites for public review and comment in the planning process. Many communities are utilizing these tools to get the word out and allow people to leave comments without having to physically drive or go to a place to get involved in land use planning. Hopefully the EUP will start utilizing these sites (as soon as we get more broadband)

  2. I love the idea that you are exploring our sense of place and therefore our sense of community. I think it is something we have almost lost in our rush to globalize everything.

    My home town [Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada - c.9,500 residents]has voted not to allow big box stores and chains. I think it makes for a much tighter community and an investment in place. When I shop anywhere in town I am directly impacting those business owners and their families.

    In thinking about your idea of communities coming together through social media, I'm not sure we are there yet. Most businesses and the town council have websites and I expect the mayor tweets but we haven't gone much beyond that.

    I love the connectivity of social media but I still like to be able to 'read' your face when I talk to you. Is there a place for body language within social media?

  3. hmmm, body language...is there an app for that :)

    thanks for reading and keep your comments coming.