The Spaces in Between
We owe the definition of "third place" to sociologist Ray Oldemburg. The term refers to all the places we go outside our social network of family and work; places where we meet people we know and don't know in our wider community. The importance of these spaces and encounters is often underestimated, even though they play a vital role in maintaining social cohesion and communication between different groups.
They are places where people from all walks of life can come together irrespective of gender, age, religion or education. These spaces provide an opportunity for people from different social and ethnic groups to meet, converse, relax actively or passively, have fun and get to know each other better.
The events of recent years, the lockdowns made inevitable by the coronavirus epidemic and their economic consequences, and then the austerity caused by rising energy prices in the grip of war and inflation, have all affected these in-between spaces while making the fragility of our circumstances tangible to us all. Even though the human psyche has not changed, we still need (perhaps now even more than before) these special spaces and occasions that allow us to connect, understand what is happening and why, and learn applicable practices.
We really do need these intermediate spaces and spots where different, seemingly unrelated things and people can come together. Who knows, they might just lead us to the conclusion that instead of the black swan, we should see the potential in the odd pairings and connections they make room for.
In fact, it is in these places that we have the chance to hear, see, experience something new or, conversely, learn about something old - something we thought we knew - through the eyes/perspectives of others and perhaps discover details previously unnoticed. Let us learn. Because it is always from others, from those who are different from us, that we learn.
That is why we need to come together again to talk about what individuals, communities and nation-states can do in the current situation. We need to talk honestly about coal, which seems to have become a public enemy, when in fact it is not. We must not forget what we learned in high school biology and chemistry classes. Without carbon, there would be no life and there would be no us. This does not mean, of course, that we can turn a blind eye to the role of our carbon hunger in climate change. On the contrary, it is time to make the carbon content of all the products and services we consume visible. This will help us make better choices as consumers and create real competition between businesses to achieve a lower carbon footprint as quickly as possible.
We need to speak bluntly about urban life, which is often suffocating, both literally and metaphorically. About ways we could make our cities livable and people-centered again for all city dwellers.
About patterns and solutions that can be learned from nature with no concept of waste and unemployment that can help revitalize and transform our systems so that we can finally leave behind our wasteful and unsustainable linear economy.
How can our short-term needs and our decisions about our long-term goals be harmonized (reconciled?) beyond words and into action? Why can trees help us with this? That is, assuming we finally do something about plant blindness, which has become a social disease.
Where have our neighbors gone and why is community life with neighbors important, how and where can it be practiced? How are the 'places' that make space for all this created and what makes them attractive and successful?
What are energy communities and how do they work? Who can play a key role in our independence from fossil fuels and in increasing the autonomy, resilience and prosperity of the communities concerned?
What role do we intend to give to mass culture and the arts in changing our habits and values at the societal level?
We need to discuss why we need everyday heroes and whether solidarity and efficiency are compatible.
Who are we counting on? Students, private and business people, corporate and institutional leaders. Anyone who knows that if you want to go fast you better travel alone, but if you want to go far you will need companions. Anyone who knows that altruism is more important now than ever. Anyone who doesn't want last year's to be the coldest summer of their lives.
According to Aristotle, it is the nature of all men to seek knowledge. We agree with him. To know is good and it is good to know.
Will you join us, too?