Mountlake Terrace Needs More Third Places

The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace.

If home is the first place and work is the second place, the third place is where you go to hang out and interact with people in your community. One thing Mountlake Terrace is severely lacking is these "third places."

Robert Putnam described the central purpose of third places in his book Bowling Alone:

Neutral ground provides the place, and leveling sets the stage for the cardinal and sustaining activity of third places everywhere. That activity is conversation. Nothing more clearly indicates the third place than that the talk is good; that it is lively, scintillating, colorful, and engaging. The joys of association in third places may initially be marked by smiles and twinkling eyes, by hand-shaking and back-slapping, but they proceed and are maintained in pleasurable and entertaining conversation.

There certainly are places that may fill this roll for some people: the Getaway Tavern, Starbucks and Ringer's at Gateway Plaza, Urban City Coffee, and a few others. Many of these are 21+ bars, Starbucks has limited hours (open no later than 8pm), and Urban City Coffee is on the north edge of town. None of these reasons prevent these places from being third places but they are somewhat limited.

What gives me hope is what I'm seeing in the Town Center neighborhood. Diamond Knot will be opening a family friendly brewpub early next year. The recently completed Arbor Village has around 10,000 square feet of retail space that would be a prime location for someone's third place, especially given that there will soon be several hundred people living upstairs. While the soon-to-be-constructed Vineyard Park assisted living facility won't necessarily be open to the public, these types of places generally have lounges, game rooms, and eating areas that can act as a "third place" for its residents.

Even with the proliferation of online social networks, the past 50 years in our country has seen a steep decline in the size of people's real-life social network. The focus has turned almost entirely on the nuclear family. With most people travelling to and from work by single occupancy vehicle, there is rarely opportunities to interact with those outside your place of employment and family.

Charles Montgomery explains why this is a problem in his book Happy City:

A healthy social network looks like the root mass of a tree. From the most important relationships at the heart of the network, thinner roots stretch out to contacts of different strength and intensity. Most people’s root networks are contracting, closing in on themselves, circling more and more tightly around spouses, partners, parents, and kids. These are our most important relationships, but every arborist knows that a tree with a small root-ball is more likely to fall over when the wind blows.

The reasons for this decline are many and it's not my intention to cover them here (a good place to start is reading Bowling Alone.) The fact is we need more places to get together because, as the song goes, the more we get together the happier we'll be.

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