Professor Emeritus Dr. Ray Oldenburg


In the absence of informal public life, living becomes more expensive. Where the means and facilities for relaxation and leisure are not publicly shared, they become the objects of private ownership and consumption. Totally unlike Main Street, the shopping mall is populated by strangers. As people circulate about in the constant, monotonous flow of mall pedestrian traffic, their eyes do not cast about for familiar faces, for the chance of seeing one is small. That is not part of what one expects there. The reason is simple. The mall is centrally located to serve the multitudes from a number of outlying developments within its region. There is little acquaintance between these developments and not much more within them. Most of them lack focal points or core settings and, as a result, people are not widely known to one another, even in their own neighborhoods, and their neighborhood is only a minority portion of the mall’s clientele.

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Thought Leader, Urban Sociologist, Civic Urbanist & Placemaking Advocate

Ray Oldenburg is the Emeritus Professor at Department of Sociology of the University of West Florida in Pensacola. Ray Oldenburg is an Urban Sociologist whose focus is on the effects of the physical environment on social behaviour and writes about the importance of informal public gathering places. He is best known for a book entitled The Great Good Place which introduced and popularized the concept of the “third place”. Ray grew up in a small town in Southeastern Minnesota. A population of 720 people and those who came in from nearby farms supported three liquor stores, five places that served beer only, and a full-service soda fountain. The post office, two barbershops, and two feed stores also served as haunts of lively association. A 2 ½ – block long Main Street was truly a vibrant place before the advent of television. It wasn’t until he reach aged 35 that Ray found himself living in a typical post-war subdivision. This experience converted a would-be symbolic interactionist into an urbanologist. Large and useless but expensive front lawns; houses unattractive because the garage was always out front; sidewalks unnecessary because nobody walked them; the need for television for entertainment because there were no places to interact with neighbors; and the need to get in the car for everything – these conditions combined to kill community for human beings who need it. Ray abandoned the usual jargon of sociology and wrote in plain English that architects, city planners and politicians might grasp his message. The message is that beyond home and work we need a regularly-visited “third place” and that the several functions it serves contribute mightily to the development of the individual and to human connections vital to a well-functioning society.

He works as a consultant to entrepreneurs, community and urban planners, churches, and others seeking to establish great good places. Oldenburg holds a Bachelor of English and Social Studies from Mankato State University, Minnesota, and a Master and PhD in Sociology from the University of Minnesota. He held positions at the University of West Florida from 1971 to 2001, prior to which he taught and researched at the University of Nevada, Stout State University, and the University of Minnesota. Oldenburg identifies third places, or “great good places,” as the public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact. In contrast to first places (home) and second places (work), third places allow people to put aside their concerns and simply enjoy the company and conversation around them. Third places “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.” Oldenburg suggests that beer gardens, main streets, pubs, cafés, coffeehouses, post offices, and other third places are the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy. They promote social equality by leveling the status of guests, provide a setting for grassroots politics, create habits of public association, and offer psychological support to individuals and communities. By exploring how these places work and what roles they serve, Oldenburg offers placemaking tools and insight for communities everywhere. He is best known for writing ‘Celebrating the Third Place’ and ‘The Great Good Place’ which are used by the placemaking practitioners.