Good Spaces and Third Rooms

I was introduced to the idea of good spaces and third rooms a few weeks ago during a talk at TEDxBuffalo and I’ve been fascinated by the concept ever since. I think it stuck with me because it finally provided a name for a concept I had been thinking about but couldn’t really identify.

Ethan Cox gave a talk called Embeer Your City for Fun & Profit, about the role of beer as well as micro and craft breweries in community building. The entire speech is worth watching, but what got me excited is about 7 minutes and 50 seconds into the video.

Cox said people spend most of their time in one of three “rooms”: their home, their work and a third room for cultural exchange. Cafes, barbershops, and community centers can all function as third rooms, but ideally a third room is any neutral space where “…people get together and create culture.”

You’ll see examples of it in any thriving arts or music community where there is a lot of crossover and collaboration among members. Substitute culture for companies or products and you could be talking about our local startup or entrepreneurial community.

For instance, Coworking Rochester, is doing a great job of being the technology community’s de facto third room. It’s a place where locals can gather, work, socialize and exchange ideas. The benefit of this type of gathering place are the partnerships it fosters.

Paul Graham recently wrote an article on a similar topic called Why Startup Hubs Work. The question he was trying to answer is, Why do certain communities, like Silicon Valley, seem predisposed to host a seemingly disproportionate number of startup companies?

He thinks there are three main reasons for this. Environment, chance, and numbers. He provides a pretty good explanation of how each contributes to Silicon Valley’s success.

First, they have an environment that almost actively encourages creating startups. In Silicon Valley, creating and being involved in a startup is fashionable. In other communities around the country, saying you left a full-time job to start a company is almost synonymous with, “I am unemployed.”

The sad reality is that most new companies fail. Even with all the moving pieces perfectly aligned, success still involves an element of luck and being in the right place at the right time.

Can you get introduced to the investor with the money to make your idea a reality? What are the odds that you will randomly meet someone who has worked on, and solved the exact problem you didn’t even know you had yet? That’s chance.

As the undisputed king of startup communities, Silicon Valley attracts the kind of numbers that make those chance encounters much more common. The sheer number of investors, technical folks and idea people in Silicon Valley loads the dice a little in success’ favor.

Based on those key ingredients, I’d say it sounds like Silicon Valley has somehow managed to create a community-sized third room.

It’s a city that supports the visions of its members and has adequate resources to help them make those visions a reality. So now the big question is, how do we create those good spaces and third rooms in Rochester? I have some ideas and I’ve written about them here in my Democrat and Chronicle blog column.

I’d love to hear about the third rooms in your community? How were they created?