The term "Third Places" may not be common in everyone's vocabulary, but their disappearance has brought the concept into the public eye.

It was Sunday. I was taking a stroll through the city centre in Luxembourg. An old friend of mine was accompanying me and we were having a nice chat, but the weather didn't really cooperate. It was windy and even though the sun was out, my cheeks were burning from the constant wind in my face.

So, we decided to sit down somewhere – anywhere we could find shelter from the wind. We went for a café – one of those chain coffee shops that you can find literally everywhere, with overpriced lattes and cheap wall decor. It was when I was paying my due 7€ for my latte when a thought hit me. I wish we could have gone somewhere we didn't have to pay a small fortune to sit down and just be social!

As a media and journalism student, I couldn't get rid of this thought. Instead, I did some digging. It turns out my issue with the city centre and its absence of free social spaces has already been described as a global phenomenon by the late American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. He was the one who coined the term "Third Place" to describe a neutral social location that is not home ("First Place") or work ("Second Place").

These places can be anything from a coffee shop, a park, or a library, where people can gather, socialise, exchange ideas and form meaningful bonds with others in their community.


However, in recent years, the rise of consumerism and the emphasis on individualism have led to the decline of Third Places, replaced by sports or entertainment venues that require a purchase to enjoy them.

This got me thinking about the impact of economic development on the social fabric of a city. Does rapid economic growth inevitably lead to the disappearance of Third Places? And if so, what does this mean for social cohesion, integration, and community building?

This trend is especially evident in Luxembourg City, where the proliferation of shopping malls, gyms, and office buildings has replaced Third Places, free to access. A fairly recent example may be the destruction of the Hamilius underground passage in Luxembourg City, which was a common place for dancers, buskers, and simply teenagers to meet up.

I would even go that far to hypothesise that the growing lack of Third Places may be a reason why so many people think of Luxembourg as a boring country. There aren't many places where one can find spontaneous and free events, like communal picnics, busking sessions, public raves or jams. All of these events need to be organised, approved by a municipality and – often poorly – marketed.

But still, they need to be organised. They don't just happen in an organic, spontaneous way.

As a counterexample, the city of Barcelona is doing is differently: On every corner, you can find a gathering of like-minded people. Someone brings a music box and the crowd entertains itself through the whole night.

Be it on the steps of a church, a random small place in the labyrinth-like city centre, or on the long boulevard which accommodates not only pedestrians, but also bikers, skaters, rollers… A place where anyone can meet and socialise without financial implications!

As someone who values community and social interaction, I believe that the disappearance of Third Places is a significant loss to society. The younger generation, today's adolescents, are particularly impacted by this phenomenon. Today, more than ever, they tend to meet up at someone's house instead of a Third Place.

Parks and random hubs are becoming rarer and rarer. The coffee shop and the cinema are still great options to meet up, don't get me wrong, but teenagers do not have the kind of money to afford these places on a daily basis – at least not with today's prices.

I would even go that far to assume that the disappearance of those social spots is a contributing factor to the rising individualism in the younger population. Staying home and interacting with virtual communities is becoming ever more widespread. And who can blame them? It is significantly cheaper.

I remember when I was a teenager, my mum always nagged on me when I spent too much time on the family computer – yes, outing myself as a millennial here – and pressured me to go outside and meet with my friends. Which I did. We spent the entire evening in the village just hanging around at the skate park. Today, said skate park doesn't exist anymore.

Living in the city, I wouldn't even know where I would spend a whole evening with my friends that I wouldn't have to pay entrance for. Maybe a picnic on the Kinnekswiss, but we'd also have to leave before sundown as it is not a great place to be after dark.

Frankly, I can relate when teenagers are unwilling to spend time outside when outside is a desert of asphalt and price tags.

This fragmentation of communities and limitation of opportunities for social interaction is a worrying trend. In my humble opinion, Third Places should be put on our To-Be-Preserved list, right next to the rain forests and the coral reefs.