WIUM Tristates Public Radio

"Third Places" – The Heartbeat of a Community

Sep 21, 2016

My grandfather owned a bar – Curly's in Decatur, IL – it is still there – different owners, different place. But it was a special place in our family and impacted my future in ways I only understood later in life.

My Papa and Curly’s started training me early for working in University Unions. I am the Director of the WIU University Union.

Curly’s was a neighborhood bar – shuffle board, baseball on the TV and my Papa sitting at the end of the bar ready with a quick joke, an opinion on the Card’s chances this season, or his idea on any number of topics. My grandparents were amazing in my eyes and had friends all over Decatur – because those friends had once dropped in to Curly’s. They weren’t perfect – but they did contribute to the Decatur community. Places like Curly’s are important to the building of community – they are 3rd Places – my favorite places

Ray Oldenburg identifies third places as public spaces on neutral ground where people can gather and interact. We all, hopefully, have first and second places – our homes and work.

A third place allows people to set aside the burdens of everyday and enjoy being in the moment. The moment may entail lively conversation with friends or a stranger, sitting in a coffee shop and reading the paper, or lingering in quiet community before the start of your day. 

As Oldenburg explains – these spaces are the heartbeat of a community – laying the foundation for a functioning democracy, grassroots politics, business development and contacts, and psychological support and friendship to our friends and neighbors

I love the idea of engaging in a quick conversation with a stranger. I’m not necessarily the most outgoing person, but I have often been caught up in a conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop, local library, or neighborhood bar just because I noticed what they were reading, or liked their shoes, or I felt compelled to start a conversation with this person. The conversation to follow is usually interesting, funny, thought provoking or just a nice way to pass some time. The interaction expands and supports my community – I now know this person – maybe in a limited way –but they are part of where I live – they now matter.

Ann Comerford
Credit Rich Egger

Time and time again a quick conversation has led to a new friendship, a good book, information has been shared to expand knowledge, or best of all help has been provided.

Third places are all over our community – coffee shops, bars, art centers, parks, senior centers, the YMCA – the list could go on and on. The University Union is a third place – at least it is my work to make it a third place for our students and the WIU and Macomb community. We encourage a life more than home and work – or in the student’s case – class. This life is full of engagement with other people, ideas, entertainment, and sometimes food.  This is the University Union – a place where students and community meet, eat, plan events, host events, rest, relax, talk, care, and laugh. It is community.

Across campus and Macomb there are such places and entertainments – First Wednesday hosted by the Art Department is a great example of an event – inviting all to come together and be in community – get to know one another and maybe realize you have more in common than you knew.

A favorite 3rd place in Macomb, for me, is the coffee shop on the square – Sullivan Taylor. Many Saturday mornings I am there sitting with friends – catching up on lives and interests. Or maybe I happen in during the week to hear the latest local news, catch friends in a book club, and put a smile on my face. No one rushes anyone out the door – you are encouraged to stay awhile.

My grandfather doesn’t know the impact he and his little bar had on my development, but I am grateful. He taught me to tell a good story or joke, pour a decent glass of beer, love the Cardinals, and meet people where they are. All these skills and more have taught me to seek community in a third place and work to create such a space for others. So, sit down, have a cup of coffee – let’s talk about what’s going on in the world. Go out and meet your community.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.  Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.