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December 12, 2007

Richard Florida

Third Place Evolution

« Word of the Day | Main | What Kind of Immigrants? »


Endless Innovation writes:

Hotel brand Le Meridien has taken this a step further -- the hotel has rounded up 100 of the world's greatest cultural innovators and artists and asked them to help make the Le Meridien hotel experience as memorable as possible. The LM 100 includes a mix of painters and photographers, musicians and designers, chefs and architects - including two of my personal favorites: coffee impresario Andrea Illy and visionary chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Anyway, to celebrate the LM 100, my colleagues at electricArtists have created a new Facebook application that enables fans of the Le Meridien experience to connect with fellow innovators: "Guests of Le Méridien are not tourists. They are travelers. They are adventurers in the world of ideas. Le Méridien is to inspire our Guests to discover more than just a new destination. They discover a new way of seeing things."

Hotels are very interesting creatures and their evolution quite fascinating. First off, their evolution over the past decade or so has put them in my eyes at the forefront of experience-creation.  (The retail experience - blending art, architecture and neighborhood - what Harvey Molotch calls "place in product" - is also fast evolving as Airoots points out, here). I like to stay in a wide range of types of hotels, and increasingly to stay clear of the loud boutique-club hotel variety.  We visited the Parker - a Meridien propety in Palm Springs last year - and the public spaces, lobby and restaurant were very well done; we certainly did not feel like tourists.  My personal favorite these days is New York's Gramercy Park. Ian Schrager likes to say he isn't a hotel developer, he's a social scientist - a statement which is interesting if nothing else. The choice of art is exqusite and the use of industrial design fixtures - like bare light bulbs inspired. This is all to say the ante has been upped.

At a deeper level, hotels and some airline lounges provide a possible glimpse into the future of third places. When city leaders, real estate developers and others ask me what they should "add" to their projects, I say a truly inspired third place (home is the first place, work the second, cafes, bars and so on third places).  Now I like Starbucks just fine, but as a third place goes it's pretty low on the evolutionary scale. What most people need are third places that are geared up for work. The closest approximation, I can find, is a truly great hotel lobby, or, perhaps an airline lounge. I was literally blown away by the Quantas Lounge in Sydney for its combination of quiet, interaction, great food, and coffee (and wine) and truly inspired design.

It's more than a customer experience, it's enabling the human being to be inspired and interact and work as seamlessly and productively as possible. Some hotels and airline lounges are beginning to climb this evolutionary ladder - to create third places that try to do this.  My two cents says that work is at the very core of this: not just coffee or drinks, a great restaurant or nightspot, a great place to interact and work.  Seems to me we need to evolve from the current emphasis on great aesthetics and reasonable functionality to great aesthetics and great functionality. Not just in hotel lobbies, but throughout our communities.

What would the next generation of third places look and feel like?


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John Wiedenheft

Very interesting post. Reminds me of a philosophy class I took a couple of years ago and our discussions over Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone" and the decline of social capital. Like you said, Starbucks isn't bad, it's just not great. It's not conducive to very good social interaction. I think the Western world, specifically the U.S., could definitely use more salon-type gathering spots.


'What would the next generation of third places look and feel like?'

That looks straightforward. Why am I continuously circling the question? A puppy with an reluctant turtle. Where can get a bite?

My trouble seems to have something to with creating these luxurious pockets of aestetic functionality, while not only benefiting to their communities, but making them universally accessible.

So far third places, as in your examples, are confined in some pretty rarified air. First Class Air Lounges, 5 star Hotels and the like. While I'm sure I personally would be far more productive ergonomically propping an elbow on yards of baby cheek soft leather couches, surrounded by Jackson Pollock canvas' coverered mezzanine walls, I'm not sure those environments will serve to provide the 'creative collection point' that so many communities need.

So I suppose I would see a system of 'creative collection points' organized in similar fashion to the public libraries; maybe crossbred with the parks and recreation enities. Just asking, but, is there a possibility that the public library system is heading the way of the dinosaur? Millions of community dollars are budgeted to develope and maintain some of the most beautiful architecture in America. Is it time to morph these ambitions to recognise the real need for a more user friendly 'third space'.?

Because they will continue to grow in importance, the next generation of third places should begin to move away from commercial enities, where their design and function are subject to market pressures. By making quality third spaces more inclusive, future innovation will benefit from diversity.


Zuko - Exactly. I was (trying to) say that these are attempts at third places, but you said it better "rarified" for sure. They're heavy on the aesthetics and sort of low to mid on the functionality. Worse yet, as you say, they're EXCLSUIVE or even EXCLUSIONARY. I like your idea of creative collection points. I'm trying to visualize what would be in them - what would they look and FEEL like. And somehow like you I end up circling the whole idea. But you're getting us closer.


The third place that I would like to see looks like a full service Kinkos with a Starbucks inside, and is open 24 /7.


I think more progressive library systems are already running with some of Zuko's ideas. The Toronto Public Library has been feverishly renovating branches, with lots of emphasis on computers, comfy chairs, and rooms small and large for study groups and community meetings. Every renovated branch that re-opens sees a dramatically higher level of use which seems to be sustained past initial curiosity. Anyone in Toronto who hasn't been inside a library in the last few years should check out the Beaches, Runnymede, or St. James Town branch (the latter is co-located with a parks & rec centre) or the central Reference Library.

But I'm not going to claim they've got the problem solved -- I think libraries will continue to skew towards young and old clientele, leaving plenty of unmet need for this kind of space. Another possible solution is the shared workplace (the Centre for Social Innovation is a local example), but these tend to work best for organizations that are quite small. Maybe that's why middle-aged large-org workers travel so much -- it's the only way to go somewhere more inspiring than the conference room down the hall!

Michael R. Bernstein

I think that's the wrong question.

What I'm interested in is the future of the second place, the workplace. It is obvious that many people who are independent professionals can't be fully productive in a home office and need an office away from home but also need something more work-oriented than existing 'third places' (and, for that matter, I've noticed many third-places are actively hostile toward people using them as a work environment).

One of the trends I am watching are 'co-working' spaces. Sometime in the next decade or so, someone is going to try and create a co-working-space network/franchise/chain.


To build on Michael's comment, I do agree that there is a bright future for 'co-working space'. We are currently developing one in Dubai, and for lack of a better term we refer to it as a creative class 'environment'. We provide homes, offices, and amenties, and our goal is to blur the boundary between 'first', 'second', and 'third' places to enable and empower creative knowledge workers seamlessly.

So, we develop, build and manage the property (apartments, hotels, dining, offices, landscape, parking, etc) and also provide ubiquitous 'third' place spaces (lobbies, cafes, gardens, etc) and services (concierge, catering, meeting, printing, etc) that are distributed throughout the 'environment' to enhance creativity and knowledge exchange.

I think the key is to increasingly blur the distinction between first, second and third places. It is also the challenge.

Michael R. Bernstein

Hmph. Blurring (or convergence) can only go so far (hence my comment on the drawbacks of home offices). What you're doing sounds more like integration.

Bringing first, second, and third spaces into close proximity and designing them to compliment each other is certainly a worthy approach, but however close you bring them together, you do still need boundaries between them, or they start to fail their primary purposes. The neighborhood shared printer does not belong in my kitchen, or even in a shared kitchen.


Michael - How right you are. So what does that second flexible, shared, connected work space for the independent creative look like?


Because, in my vision, these spaces are geared, mostly, toward the independent creative, my imaginings have third spaces fully capable of substituting for the second - in both functionality and able maintain a respected amount of elan that would make collaboration with other parties/clients comfortable professionally. That would go to the "feel' that would need to be cultivated by their design.

So I imagine more blurring, as an upside, not less.

A thought in progress for sure.


Michael R. Bernstein

Richard, I already referenced the current best answer to that: co-working spaces (which are actually a fairly diverse set of experiments):

Right now, these are in the 'private lending library for members' phase. I imagine that a more geographically distributed version could start out resembling member lounges at airports, or perhaps peering agreements between spaces in different cities, and perhaps expand from there.

Eventually, I imagine that philanthropists will endow some public co-working spaces somewhere, similar to how the great public lending libraries got started, and it will gradually move into the mainstream of expected public infrastructure.

Teemu Arina

I assigned the concept of third places to technologically-mediated serendipity and learning in my presentation last summer. I guess the future of work is also the future of learning: http://tarina.blogging.fi/2007/06/23/serendipity-20-missing-third-places-of-learning/

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