The Accidental Success of a Third Space

by FCS Ministries on

by Jeff Delp

Where do you spend your time when you’re not at work or home? For many of us, our responses would fall into a category that sociologists would call “third places.” These third spaces can include diners, bookstores, coffee shops, barber shops, and more.

According to urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, third places typically share the following characteristics:

  • free or inexpensive
  • often food and drink are involved
  • close by and highly accessible
  • “regulars” - or folks who gather their frequently
  • welcoming and comfortable
  • a place for both new and old friends

When we opened Community Grounds Coffee Shop, we hoped it would be a place in the neighborhood where people could interact and gather. We hoped it would serve as a “third space” in our target community of Historic South Atlanta.

However, we could never have imagined all the unique ways that this space has been used by a neighborhood that has virtually no other third spaces available. Here are just a few examples of the accidental success of this gathering place.

#1 - High School Date Spot

Our proximity to the local high school has led to an uptick in after school coffee dates. Youth can come in, buy a smoothie, and flirt with each other in a safe and public community space.

#2 - Coffee with a Cop

Local police decided to host a community meeting at the coffee shop. It offers space that groups can come together to talk and build relationships in a location where everyone feels comfortable.

#3 - Neighborhood Civic League

The coffee shop has become a prime space for meetings, including the neighborhood association. It’s a familiar place for the community where everyone can come and participate in the life of the neighborhood.

#4 -  Political Engagement

The coffee shop is on the radar of local politicians and can serve as a perfect place to connect with voters. Our Board of Education Representative hosted “First Saturday Community Coffee” gatherings to open conversations with local residents.

Creating a space where neighbors can meet up with each other, work or get online, or simply drink a great cup of coffee has all been wonderful. But the real beauty of our coffee shop has been in the unexpected ways it has served the neighborhood by providing a clean, safe, and valuable third space for everyone to engage more deeply.

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