Table set for family and friends. Image by Isabel Sánchez Inglesias

I recently had a wonderful holiday in Vietnam. We travelled from the South to the North in two weeks! Clearly not enough time to discover the wonders of this amazing place but certainly enough time to get a taste of the food, culture and some of the more popular destinations.

As I walked around the busy, bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, I could not believe how many people hung out on the pavement outside their shops and homes, sharing meals, chatting, drinking tea and smoking. They cooked outside with their portable stoves – large pots of broth, bowls of fresh noodles, herbs, vegetables and meats. There were young children playing together, splashing in the puddles, elderly grandparents, mums and dads all enjoying the meal they shared and the conversations over steaming tea pots and noodle dishes.  Meanwhile, the city hummed and buzzed around them – shoppers, tourists, hawkers selling their wares and of course a multitude of motor bikes honking their horns. The traffic never seemed to stop or come to a standstill – not for stop signs, stop lights, or pedestrians for that matter (see video for a glimpse of the perils of crossing the road)! Yet these beautiful people seemed to be oblivious to the noise and activity and simply continued with their cooking, conversation and community.

It was then that I understood that the streets and pavements of these cities could be seen as their 3rd space! I realised that the key elements in the 3rd space are that of friendship, conversation, accessibility, and more often than not involves food and drink! It is a space where community is defined and a sense of belonging is established.

The space was not beautiful in the sense that we perceive beauty. Old rickety chairs, small plastic tables on the side of the road formed the basis of the space where they gathered. Their workplace (usually the shops), their homes (usually behind or above the shops) were not conducive to building community. The pavement, however, was the perfect place to enjoy friends, family and food!

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Pavement hairdresser. Image by Isábel Sanchez Inglesias

I also noticed quite a few pavement hairdressers. Another twist on the traditional barber shop that has often been associated with the 3rd space!

Here in Australia, whilst we don’t socialise and cook on the pavement, we do however enjoy places where we can relax with friends and family, share meals, drinks and conversations. This may be a favourite bar, restaurant, park or a special space in your own home! Perhaps we are more private in defining our 3rd space than the people of Vietnam, but never-the-less we can all identify with a space that gives us that sense of place!

In Ray Oldenburg’s book The Great Good Place, (1989, 1991) the 3rd place (or space) has a number of key characteristics. Oldenburg suggests the 3rd space: is “free or inexpensive”; involves food and drink (not essential but important); is accessible, “involves regulars”, is “welcoming and comfortable”; and includes new and old friends!

So whether it’s a pavement, a café, a barber shop, a bar or your backyard, a 3rd space is an important aspect to the way we interact with our community, share experiences and simply do life.

It is important to me that what I identify as my 3rd space is comfortable, functional and also aesthetically pleasing. I enjoy a vista, fresh air and hearing the local birds singing their little tunes. And so my outdoor area is my little haven where I love to laugh with friends over a few drinks, relax and read a book or share meals with my beautiful family in all types of weather conditions! It’s quite a difference to the pavements and streets of the cities of Vietnam, but the outcome is not too dissimilar!

If you want to create a 3rd space that you can use all year round, contact our team at Aalta for a consultation.