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Ray Oldenburg is an urban sociologist from Florida who writes about the importance of informal public gathering places.

In his book The Great Good Place, Oldenburg demonstrates why these gathering places are essential to community and public life. He argues that bars, coffee shops, general stores, and other “third places” (in contrast to the first and second places of home and work), are central to local democracy and community vitality.

By exploring how these places work and what roles they serve, Oldenburg offers placemaking tools and insight for individuals and communities everywhere.

“Oldenburg has given us an insightful and extremely useful new lens through which to look at a familiar problem…”
The New York Times Book Review

“Eloquent and visionary, [The Great Good Place] is a compelling argument for these settings of informal public life as essential for the health both of our communities and ourselves. And its message is being heard: Today, entrepreneurs from Seattle to Florida are heeding the call of The Great Good Place – opening coffee houses, bookstores, community centers, bars and other establishments and proudly acknowledging their indebtedness to this book.”

The Great Good Place has put into words and focus what I’ve been doing all my life, from the barbershop I remember as a child to the bookstore I now own… Ray Oldenburg has defined those good places while still recognizing the magical chemistry they require.”
— Victor W. Herman, owner of Horizon Books


Ray Oldenburg, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Sociology at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. He is best known for writing The Great Good Place. He works as a consultant to entrepreneurs, community and urban planners, churches, and others seeking to establish great good places. His most recent assignments were for Consumer Eyes, Inc, New York in 2002, and San Jose, California’s CIRCA 2002 group. He has been invited to speak at symposia and conferences across the US, including at the Urban City Research Conference 2003 in Stockholm, Sweden.

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 also worked as an elementary and high school teacher, and as a dental technician in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.


Third Places

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.


“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.”

“What suburbia cries for are the means for people to gather easily, inexpensively, regularly, and pleasurably — a ‘place on the corner,’ real life alternatives to television, easy escapes from the cabin fever of marriage and family life that do not necessitate getting into an automobile.”

“Most needed are those ‘third places’ which lend a public balance to the increased privatization of home life. Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The phrase ‘third places’ derives from considering our homes to be the ‘first’ places in our lives, and our work places the ‘second.'”

“The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends…They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.”

“Life without community has produced, for many, a life style consisting mainly of a home-to-work-and-back-again shuttle. Social well-being and psychological health depend upon community. It is no coincidence that the ‘helping professions’ became a major industry in the United States as suburban planning helped destroy local public life and the community support it once lent.”

“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.”



Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories about the “Great Good Places” at the Heart of Our Communities, Marlowe & Company, 2000.

Parallel Utopias: The Quest for Community, by Richard Sexton, Ray Oldenburg (Contributor), Jr. Turnbull, Chronicle Books, 1995.

The Great Good Place, New York: Paragon House, 1991. 3rd Edition with photo update published in 1999, New York: Marlowe and Company. Japanese edition forthcoming, Kajima Institute Publishing Company.


“Dining Out,” Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America, Gary S. Cross (Ed.) New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons Reference Books (forthcoming)

“Bars and Pubs,” Encyclopedia of Community, Karen Christensen (Ed.), Great Barrington, Massachusetts: Berkshire Publishing Group, 2003.

“The Third Place,” Encyclopedia of Community, Karen Christensen (Ed.), Great Barrington, Massachusetts: Berkshire Publishing Group, 2003.

“The ‘Third Place’ Essential for Campuses and for Communities,” Interview in the Lawlor Review, Fall, 2002, pp. 10-13.

“In Memoriam: The Souls of Three Cities,” Social History of Alcohol Review, Summer, 1997.

Our Vanishing ‘Third Places’,” Planning Commissioners Journal, #25, Winter 1997.

“What Makes a Great Neighborhood: The Human Perspective,” Column in Malbis Camillia, October 28, 1997.

“The Sexes and the Third Place,” in Voices in the Street, Susan Drucker and Gary Gumpert (Eds.), Creskill, New York: Hampton Press, 1997.

“Making College a Great Place to Talk,” in The Best of Planning for Higher Education, George Keller (Ed.) Ann Arbor, Michigan: Society for College and University Planning, 1997.

Forward and Jacket Review of Funkytowns USA: The Best Alternative, Eclectic, Irreverent and Visionary Places by Mark Cramer. Annapolis, Maryland: T.B.S. Publishing Company, l995.

“Small Towns and Neighborhoods,” The Milestone Monitor, May 27, 1995.

“Neighbors now, not nigh dwellers,” The Milestone Monitor, January 20, 1995.

“Prospects for Community,’ epilogue to Parallel Utopias by Richard Sexton, San Francisco: Chronicle Press, 1995.

“The Problem of Place in America,” in A Forest of Voices: Reading and Writing the Environment, Les Runciman and Chris Anderson (Eds.), Emeryville, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1994.

“The Urban Staging of Public Incivility,” with Dennis Brissett in Community Sociology: The Community of the Streets, Spencer Cahill and Lyn Lofland (Guest Editors), Dan Chekki (Senior Editor), London: JAI Press, 1994.

“Augmenting the Bar Studies,” The Social History of Alcohol Review, 28-29, 1994.

“Parades on Parade,” Review on Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century, J. Bodnar, The New York Times Book Review, April 1992.

Review of Friendship: Developing a Sociological Perspective by Alan Graham, Social Forces, 1991.

“Food, Drink, Talk, and the Third Place,” The Journal of Gastronomy, 6 (1), 1990.

“The Inconvenient Society,” Favorite Quotes section of The New York Times, 1990.

“There Was a Tavern in the Town?,”North American Culture, 5 (2), 1989.

“The Sociology of Socialization,” in Sociology Faces the 1980s, ANU Press, 1987

“The Sociology of Socialization,” The Review Journal of Philosophy and Social Science, 11(2), 1986.

“The Third Place,” with Dennis Brissett in Qualitative Sociology, Autumn, 1983.

“People Need Hangouts,” with Dennis Brissett, The World Executive Digest, August, 1982.

“Friendship: An Exploration and Appreciation of Ambiguity,” with Dennis Brissett in Psychiatry, October, 1981. Selected to be indexed in the Inventory of Marriage and Family Literature, 9,1982.

“The Essential Hangout,” with Dennis Brissett, in Psychology Today, April 1980.

“An Evaluation of Rent-Supplement Housing Occupants in Escambia-Santa Rosa Counties,” Pensacola Metropolitan Housing Study, Funded by HUD through the Escambia-Santa Rosa Regional Planning Council, 1973.

“A Demographic Analysis of Rent-Supplement Housing Occupants,” in Pensacola Metropolitan Housing Study, Funded by HUD through the Escambia-Santa Rosa Regional Planning Council, 1972.

“Survey of Moderate and Low Income Housing,” in Housing in the Pensacola Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area. Funded by HUD through the Escambia-Santa Rosa Regional Planning Council, 1972.

“Pensacola Urban Transportation Study,” funded by the Florida State Department of Transportation and administered and published by the Escambia-Santa Rosa Regional Planning Council, 1971.

Contact Info

4635 Tree Line Drive
Pensacola FL 32504
Tel (850) 476-9298
Fax (850) 476-7172

Professor Emeritus
Department of Sociology
University of West Florida
Pensacola, FL 32514

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