It makes a lot of sense to aspire to improve the spaces in which we live and work such that they bring out the best in us on a daily basis. After all, this is where we spend the majority of our time. Dividing my time between working for eco-effective Architect Sid Thoo and my role with the Rate My Space team, I’ve found myself in the enviable position of being able to make a contribution in both these crucial areas. Sid is in the business of delivering homes that are a delight to inhabit whilst exemplifying best practice in sustainable design. If you’re reading this blog then hopefully you’re already aware that Rate My Space is an initiative aimed at innovating in the area of workplace health and wellbeing.
But what about the ‘third places’ in our lives? In his book ‘The Great Good Place’ Ray Oldenburg describes them as the places where people congregate besides work and home. Like I have, you may ask yourself if you even have such a place? And before you suggest them, I’m not talking about the cafe where you sit and stare at your phone on your lunch break. Or the gym where you’re too breathless from doing squats or lunges to be able to properly interact with anyone.
According to Oldenburg, a ‘true’ third place is somewhere to converse and laugh with people whom you consider to be equals, and vice versa. An accessible and unpretentious place where everyone knows your name.Think ‘Cheers!’, though access to beer is not a prerequisite! One school of thought suggests that such places are vital if we are to fulfil our need for positive relationships that help us to ’thrive’. And the relationships I’m talking about are ones with people other than our families and co-workers for, as rewarding as those relationships tend to be, they’re also so often associated with certain pressures and expectations from which we require relief, from time to time. I wonder, with no thanks to the distractions of Facebook and ‘Pokemon Go!’ that abound in our modern age, if having such a place is perhaps a dying trend for many? A few places (three, conveniently!) that I’ve frequented of late have prompted me to pause and consider this question …
THE NAVY CLUB, FREMANTLE
Not far from my doorstep in the west end of Fremantle, ‘the Navy Club’ stands tall as a stalwart beacon of community togetherness – the kind of place I imagine when I read the likes of Oldenburg’s descriptions of what a third place should be. Held each July, Freo’s winter music festival ‘Hidden Treasures’ provides an excuse for ‘the youth’ to gain access to this institution and some friends and I have returned since – the practically-unheard-of promise of $6 pints coupled with a bird’s eye view over Freo harbour at sunset being too good to pass up. On my way up to the 6th floor one such evening I get chatting to a lifelong member of this ‘club for civilian, military and ex-military personnel’ – their description, lifted straight out of their club constitution. “Let’s go upstairs and have a drink”, he says to me as we enter the elevator. I didn’t happen to catch his name. “Sounds like a plan!” I say, with a smile. He tells me he’s all for us ‘young-folk’ attending the club bar, but sadly he fears he’s in the minority. A few minutes after I get upstairs and meet my friends he comes over to check that we’ve got enough chairs, then without waiting for an answer, pulls three more over from a nearby table. Now that’s a welcome…
SPACE CO-WORKING SPACE, FREMANTLE
My somewhat scattered working life of late has more than once prompted me to describe myself as having ‘sticky pie-fingers’. Dabbling in Sid’s architectural practice, moonlighting with Rate My Space and tutoring part-time in the School of Architecture at Curtin University certainly keeps things interesting. But the life of a so-called ‘contingent worker‘ as myself can be fraught with uncertainty and loneliness. My port in the storm has been ‘fSpace’ – a co-working space in the Princess Chambers building in Freo. Here, entrepreneurs and folk, such as myself, who freelance for various businesses come together to work side-by-side but not ‘together’ as such (though cross-pollination definitely does occur). It’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. Personally I’ve found the social aspect at fSpace to be even more free-flowing than my previous, more ‘conventional’ workplaces. Perhaps it’s because the people who work there really crave the human contact they aren’t getting as a result of working remotely or autonomously? Whatever it is, it’s a winning formula for me and the increasing number of Australian freelancers and entrepreneurs who are signing up for memberships to co-working spaces such as fSpace, Spacecubed and BubDesk. Do such spaces represent a blurring of the boundaries between workplace and ‘third place’?
Not so much a place, per se, ‘Living Smart‘ is in fact a 7-week behaviour-change course. Attendees, who tend to already be of the environmentally-conscious persuasion, develop skills and knowledge in areas that will enable them to further reduce the environmental impact they are having in their homes and in life in general. The place where my partner and I attended this course recently was Piney Lakes Environmental Centre, in Booragoon. However it wasn’t the place, but the people who made an impression on us. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, we found, was a comforting and uplifting experience in a world where it often seems that there is much to despair over. Course facilitator Shani Graham conducted us in an early exercise, encouraging us to share with another attendee our ‘happiest memory’, what we’d consider to be ‘our most cherished possession’ and ‘one thing we could change about the world if we could’. We then identified common themes from amongst our answers. For most, realising that we don’t perhaps value the ‘stuff’ in our lives (like plasma TVs, mobile phones and laptops) as much as we do our family and friends is as good a place as any to begin thinking about simplifying life in general and the importance of ‘community’