“Third Places” for Everybody Else

We need common spaces for more than just the 20-something with cash to blow.

The median household income for adults aged 25 – 44 where I live is $52,448. The city has an average cost of living, but this particular demographic is often doing the important work of parenting. With the costs of childcare, extracurricular activities and the like, family budgets are often tight. It is also the demographic of 43% of the homeless.

Slowly, the city is experiencing a renaissance for foodies and tipplers. It has been a boon, and a welcome one, but it often only serves the needs of small subsets of the city. The 25 – 44 demographic is most likely to enjoy the kinds of establishments that tickle the palette and fulfill the need for an atmosphere that does not distract with television and to-dos.

When out, you’ll often see the young and unattached, or those who are older and can leave children at home alone for an evening. These are also the two subsets of the demographic that are more likely to have the disposable income needed to purchase an $11 bespoke cocktail (or two).

But where are the places for the rest? The ones for whom new shoes for the kiddos are far more important than an amuse-bouche. The ones who have their children along with them. The single dads. The homeless. The ones who prefer Budweiser to Bulleit.

In a piece for the her.meneutics blog published by Christianity Today, Morgan Lee considers how fast food establishments are a place of community for the poor—not a place of disenfranchisement. People can walk in wearing shorts and flip-flops, full suits, or wedding dresses. And when they walk in, they pay their $1 and get the exact same thing as the person in front of them. It’s a great equalizer.

Foodie culture is as much about where you eat, as what you eat. There is great emphasis on pairing creative offerings with clever décor in unique locations. And patrons often have discriminating tastes in clothing and comportment. Lee charges churches to take the example of McDonald’s—not of the latest cocktail haunt—to make their ways and spaces feel safe and “outside of a critical, outside, patronizing gaze.”

I don’t consider Colorado Springs an overly snooty city. In general, people are friendly and relaxed. I’ve worn t-shirts and jeans in for cocktails at places that, were they in another city, I’d get the “up and down” stare. We are also home to large family and poverty-focused charities, so our cultural values of acceptance are often stronger than those in other cities.

I’d like to add to Lee’s charge that, in addition to churches, community builders and entrepreneurs have an excellent opportunity for creating pleasant, inexpensive spaces for those who may not otherwise have them. Where families with young children, the hipsters, and the homeless can be and interact. And how can we cultivate a genuine atmosphere of welcome and belonging in these places? Places that are part of the community, not of a corporation. In Warr Acres, Oklahoma, the P.B. Jams sandwich shop combined entrepreneurship with social action by giving free sandwiches away to the homeless who come in from the neighborhood.

It’s been working for places like Toms and Warby Parker. Why can’t it work for tapas?

Comments are closed.