Where do we dance? Exploring Aotearoa New Zealand’s third places
‘Where do we dance?’ is a research project led by Dr Rebecca Kiddle along with Dr Wokje Abrahamse from Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington. The project explores where New Zealanders create connections and build communities and what spatial design attributes those spaces which support community building are most likely to have. The project is funded by Better Homes, Towns and Cities, National Science Challenge 11.
The project idea came out of time spent living in China and UK and seeing the way people used the urban realm as a place of socialisation and connection so much more than in New Zealand. In China, if you go out on the street at dusk, it won’t be long before you happen across a group of people dancing and a music streaming from a portable music player. According to my Chinese friends, the official agenda of this gathering is to exercise but, the unofficial one is to chat, gossip and generally build and maintain connection with others. Dancing for exercise legitimises such relationships building.
The UK, a completely different cultural context, offers another kind of space found ubiquitously around the country – the pub. One knows and looks for the ‘local’ when moving to a new place, knowing that there, social and community norms might be learnt and connections might be made.
On returning home to Aotearoa I was struck by the fact that there didn’t seem to be any obvious spaces in our towns and cities that offered opportunities for neutral and easy social connection. Ray Oldenburg, an American sociologist has developed the notion of a third place to describe these kinds of spaces that offer us opportunities to socialise and connect in neutral, levelling spaces. Our first place is our domestic space and our second place is our productive or work space.
To date, a number of third place strands have been explored by the project team. Chantal Mawer has undertaken a project exploring the role of suburban shopping malls as third places, delving into the decision-making mechanisms available to communities when such places are privately owned. Emma McNeill has explored intercultural interactions and whether there are certain kinds of spaces that provide opportunities for cross-cultural relationship building over others. Elinor Thomas has explored children’s third places in the suburb of Miramar, using participatory placemaking processes to foster agency amongst children to design and create their own third places. Elaine Gyde has explore the potential of green spaces as third places and Grace Turner has explored the link between third places and social capital.
Key findings include:
the importance of shopping centres as community third places alongside a lack of regulatory tools enabling communities to engage in decision-making around these spaces because they are privately owned despite their importance;
multicultural communities don’t in and of themselves result in meaningful cross-cultural interactions, rather planned activities and the activation of spaces is needed in order to create comfortable opportunities for people of different cultures to interact; and,
giving children the agency to design and create their own third places results in well liked and well used spaces.
In terms of next steps, in the next few weeks, we will launch a Wellington wide survey exploring with as many people as possible in the region, where Wellingtonians connect with others, make friends and build communities and what kind of attributes these spaces have.