If you haven’t read my post about Third Places, they are define by wikipedia as “the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home (“first place”) and the workplace (“second place”) in community building. There’s more to it than that, but I’m going to leave it at that for now.
The Parking Lot Bar
Years ago, I visited my brother who was living in Brooklyn. It was summer and so he took me to a rare outside bar that was really just a fenced-off parking lot with some chairs in it. Canned beer was sold out of coolers by people who may or may not have been authorized to set up this barebones business. The place was packed.
Just chairs and beer in a parking lot. That seemed to be the whole business. On the one hand I was amazed but on the other I thought, yeah this is really the core of what you need out of a bar.
I thought about this “parking lot bar” (whose name I don’t recall.. something about a boat I think) for years. The idea that you could set up a bar that was so simple. I had gotten so used to going to places with things like walls and ceilings and decor and food and drink that I forgot that was just one way to do it.
More people live in cities and in smaller spaces. Many want to get out of the home and into a Third Place.
My idea of “Presence-Only Environments” lie somewhere between the free spaces offered by public parks and the more expensive and consumption-oriented coffeeshops and bars.
You’re not limited to the sorts environmental design of parks (trees, sidewalks, hard benches).
You’re not under tacit obligation to buy something to eat or drink like in bars and coffeeshops.
You just pay for what you want: to be in an interesting space with other people.
The Blank Canvas
One aspect of breaking it down to the core needs is that it loses most of its pretentiousness. It’s not trying to pretend to be anything because it’s just a parking lot with chairs in it. The people are the thing. Instead of being a scene, it (in my mind, at least) was more social, socially leveling, and open than “regular” bars.
The lack of everything else magnified the people.
What if we got rid of the people working it, the beer, and the chairs even? (We’ll keep the restrooms.) Well then we just have a parking lot.
What would that be like?
Is it more special to bring your own chair and beer? Does this give people the room to be more creative and make it their own? Like how people set up elaborate homesteads for tailgating?
As for employees, what if it’s just one guy working the entrance who can call the cops if there’s an issue. That guy could also just be working from home on Zoom. Even from India. It’s just a turnstile that lets you in when you swipe your credit or access card.
I think so.
The Partially Painted Canvas
What if instead of breaking it down to nothing, we go slightly the other way and add a few things?
We bring the chairs back, maybe add some plants, perhaps some better than average restrooms. But it’s still BYOB and BYO Food.
Could we load the place with a script so people have an idea of what it is but still keep it a blank enough canvas that they make it their own? I think definitely.
By “script” I mean incorporate semiotics that will attract certain tribes or encourage certain themed behavior.
What are some examples of that? You’ll have to wait for a later post.
The Fully Painted Canvas
Have you ever walked through a really nice lobby or building and thought “I just want to hang out here for a while, maybe drink some coffee, read, surf the internet, people watch, etc” but the place really wasn’t the kind that invited that behavior?
Imagine the coolest decor or atmosphere you’ve ever seen that wasn’t really a “hang out” space. And now imagine you can hang out in it.
This is the Fully Painted Canvas version of the Presence-Only Environment concept.
Maybe you just want to read a book in the House of Torment. Or pull a chair up on the sidewalk downtown. Maybe you want to go sit in the backyard of that really cool house you’ve seen down south. Or read in an art gallery for hours. There could be places like all of these specifically-built not to be what they are now, but instead as intentional presence-only Third Spaces.