Local gathering spots are creating a greater sense of community

Trends have a way of resurfacing. Typically, the phenomenon is best seen through the world of fashion, which is never short on bell-bottom pants, baby tees, and gothic black attire. Yet trends also show up in social behavior and needs.

In recent years, there has been an uptick in the use of “third places,” a concept first introduced by Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book The Great Good Place. People spend a majority of their lives in three areas: home, workspace, and social space. This is the idea behind third places—public spaces that embrace and welcome local community to gather in their places of business.

Norton Museum of Art Shapiro Great Hall

Norton Museum of Art, Shapiro Great Hall. Photo by Nigel Young.

In early February, the Norton Museum of Art reopened its doors after a $100 million renovation. The “new” Norton includes the Ruth and Carl Shapiro Great Hall, nicknamed “the living room.” “Ever since Hope Alswang assumed directorship of the Norton in 2010, one of her primary goals has been to erase the intimidation factor of art museums,” says Scott Benarde, the Norton’s director of communications. “[The living room] is a beautiful room that fosters community and makes people feel at home.” With a breathtaking 30-foot-tall window, the living room is a free, welcoming, inspiring space to bring family, meet friends, make new ones, or enjoy a solitary moment. As Benarde describes it: “Sometimes music will be playing. People can gather at the coffee bar and converse. It’s what The Eagles called a ‘peaceful easy feeling’ in song—very conducive to relaxing.”

CityZen Garden, Broadstone City Center. Sculpture by Béju.

CityZen Garden, Broadstone City Center. Sculpture by Béju.

With the completion of West Palm Beach’s newest apartment complex, Broadstone City Center, another third place arose: CityZen Garden. The space was created by artists Béju and Sherryl Muriente—a duo who create public art for large-scale, site-specific installations—and environmental artist and Finnish architect Marco Casagrande. The serene garden features Beju’s copper figurine sculptures and Casagrande’s cubes (an avant-garde take on benches) and welcomes guests to find their zen in this active space.

Grandview Public Market West Palm Beach

The Living Room, Grandview Public Market. Photo by Jeff Heron.

Naturally, the most common third places revolve around coffee and food—and West Palm Beach favorites Subculture Coffee (which also has locations in Jupiter and Delray Beach) and Grandview Public Market are two of the most popular spots around. “People are comfortable at Grandview because they feel at home,” says Hans Jordan, the site’s marketing manager. The space is a hubbub of activity: An artist sketches on the Loading Dock. Teachers host meetings in the Living Room. “The fact that we see community building and empowering within Grandview, happening organically, is one of the best feelings we could have,” Jordan adds.

KOBRA Mural Subculture Coffee West Palm Beach

Mural by Eduardo KOBRA – Subculture Coffee West Palm Beach – Photo by Adrian Wilcox Photography

Sean Scott, cofounder and owner of Subculture Coffee, concurs with that feeling: “By nature, any space that is part of people’s daily ritual becomes special to them. Coffee has built on this for the past 20 years, so now it is almost expected that this space will enhance friendships and create new connections.” Subculture, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on March 5, sees people use its space for meditation, yoga, youth mentorship, church gatherings, artist space, book clubs, and more. “It is my goal for Subculture to be known as a community center as much as a coffee shop,” adds Scott. “Whenever a community builds stronger connections and collaborations, great things happen, in good times and in bad.”