No Strangers to Third Space

Jonathan fit the bill.

We all thought Jonathan fit the bill.

I’ve always likes the sign at Third Space that says, “Up here it’s okay to talk to strangers,” but I didn’t know exactly why they’d posted it.

The place was packed when Jonathan, Amanda (another Fulbright), and I ordered breakfast, and Amanda located seats at a large table up top.

It appears that they want to encourage customers to share tables on this raised level. They have two very long, family style tables.

The crowd soon thinned out and we had plenty of space to ourselves.

Thankfully we had Jonathan with us, so we met the criteria for sitting up there!  (We had someone stranger to talk to!!!!)


I explained the philosophy of “third space” in an earlier blog and other adventures I’ve had at Third Space in Smithfield (Dublin 7) as well.

Cafeteria tables on the upper level of Third Space.

Cafeteria tables on the upper level of Third Space.

Echelons of Third Space

The Cobblestone made complimentary mention of an earlier blog on “third spaces,” so I’ve decided it’s time to write the sequel I promised.

A couple of weeks ago, after sequestering myself in my apartment for two days to write, I need a brief respite and some healthy food.  I headed to Third Space–Cafe and Social Space on the nearby Smithfield Plaza.

After placing an order at the counter, I realized I’d forgotten my wallet.  You see, I’d given a new purse a whirl the day before and accidentally left every cent in that handbag rather than the one I now carried.

The young man behind the counter could have easily cancelled the order.  He’d probably not even hit the enter key at that point.  But instead he said, “It’s okay.  You’ve been here before. You can pay later.”

Wow!  I’d been there twice.  Once was with Esther about four days prior.

This guy had rendered excellent service on that outing–and that was one reason I returned again so soon.

Now I’d normally have trouble accepting such an act of kindness, for fear something might go wrong.  But this time I admitted to myself that his was a much better option than trudging home hungry–particularly when I had so much to do.

So I stayed put and enjoyed a tasty slice of quiche with a side of grilled vegetables.

While eating, I devised a plan that required asking for more leeway than the kind cashier had actually offered.  When I got up to leave, I approached him and asked, “Is it okay if I come back to pay tomorrow morning? That way I can get breakfast while I’m here.  Will you be working tomorrow?”

He said yes and indicated the plan was acceptable. And I went on my merry way.

At home, I made sure to set an iPhone reminder.  I wouldn’t run the risk forgetting a responsibility as important as this.

I arrived back at Third Space around 8:30 the next morning.  After greeting the cashiers, I ordered a “mini veg” and asked to pay for both meals. The young woman who was ringing me up thanked me for returning to pay. And the young man was visibly relieved to see me.

“Isn’t it nice that we can trust each other?” he asked.

Yes, it surely is!

The Third Space offers shelves of books and an upper tier where the sign says, “here, it’s okay to talk to strangers.”

I must say, though, that he had to extend much more trust than I, since I know I’ll certainly follow through!  But what let him know I would?

In my mind, there was no way I would ever shake his faith in humanity by not meeting our agreement.  Such breaches have happened to me before, and the scars have left me far less generous to strangers than I’d like to be. But this particular story has a happy ending.

This young man has provided a glorious example of generosity.  He has demonstrated what a true “third space” is all about.

The website of the place he works, the “Third Space–Cafe and Social Space” claims that the founders wanted to provide a comfortable space for all, where people could feel included without having to spend much money.  This example proved to me that they have succeeded.

Third Spaces of Smithfield

Browse the bookshelf.

A good “third space” helps fill the gap left between your home (your first space) and your workplace (your second space).  It should be a place where everyone feels welcome and equal–regardless of income or social status.

I learned about third spaces from one of my thesis advisees at Hampton University, Ryan Kendall, who asserted that we lack adequate third spaces in the USA.  He proposed to transform our beautiful (but increasingly vacant) Post Office buildings into vibrant spaces. He wanted them to be used for socializing, learning, developing physically, and yes, mailing things (in old- and new-fashioned ways). Prior to his thesis year, Ryan worked at NASA Langley. That happened the summer after he completed the Comprehensive Design Studio that I taught alongside Robert Easter. Ryan was a smashing success with NASA.  And the NASA folks have kept coming back, asking for more and more HU interns and for our department’s help on various design projects.

Ryan Kendall in his job at NASA Langley.

Ryan’s main point?

In the States we often neglect our third spaces… or fail to create them all together.

I’ve found that fostering “third space” is a core tradition in Ireland.  The pub has long served this purpose.

When Dave and I visited Ireland in 2003, we saw entire families spend their evenings engrossed in meaningful conversations with neighbors and friends at the various pubs we visited.  Kids ran in and out and people of all ages mingled happily and comfortably.  Although pub culture is not as strong today (the smoking ban took a tool on the pubs), it’s something you can still find in many places.

I’m fortunate to have several great third spaces very close to my apartment here in Dublin’s Smithfield neighborhood, a district also known by its postal code, “Dublin 7.”

My favorite third space is the Cobblestone pub.  Another–where I’m starting to spend more and more time–is aptly called Third Space.

Third Space: changing the city around the table.

Bring some friends. Enjoy the art.

A webpage for the Third Space restaurant explains:

Our story starts in the changes Dublin saw in the “noughties”. Lots of new apartment blocks, lots of new offices and retail units – no gathering places. Living space and working space but no “third space”.

Third spaces are neighbourhood places where people can gather regularly, easily, informally and inexpensively.

Re-introducing such places into areas that lacked them became a passion for a small group of people. And so was born Third Space. It is a social business venture to open and run eating and meeting places in the areas of Dublin that lack community hubs. With a simple and great menu and an informal friendly environment, they will have a creative buzz that connects into the varied life of a modern Dublin neighborhood.

Third Space 1 opened in Smithfield on February 14th 2012.

I had an interesting encounter at both of my “third spaces” this week.  I’ll post them,  so you can see what I mean. Stay tuned! (Click here to read the sequel.)

Grab a lunch. Everyone’s welcome and they’ll make you feel at home… even a barrister (i.e., lawyer, shown to the left) can find a quite place to reflect on the day, away form the busy halls of the Four Courts.