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Debajeet Baruah Jun 20243 min read

Should transit stations also be our ‘Third space’?

Should transit stations also be our ‘Third space’?

‘’The third space’’ is a concept created by sociologist Ray Oldenburg and refers to places where people spend time outside of the home (the ‘first’ space) and work (the ‘second’ space). They are often communal locations such as parks, cafes, community centres or malls, where people gather to enjoy their time and build relationships. Humans are inherently social creatures and have always sought locations to hang out, the ancient Greek Agora, or gathering place, is one of the earliest examples of a third space.

TV shows and movies showcase great examples of the importance of third spaces, and how they serve to enrich and broaden character development and storylines. The Central Perk Café in Friends is an iconic ‘third space’.

Central Perk cafe in friends

Why are third spaces important?

Third spaces have a big impact on community cohesion and the mental and physical health of users.

Third space diagramThese spaces can be commercial spaces such as cafes and shopping centres and free public spaces such as public playgrounds, activity zones and libraries. These spaces encourage community interactions and build an identity for the area. These spaces can also be used for murals and street art to signify the essence of the community. It is a proven fact that social interactions and outdoor activities improve mental and physical health and a well-designed multi-functional third space designed for the community can provide the right environment for such interactions and activities.


Third space and Transit

Investing in third spaces within transport stations is essential for creating inclusive, engaging, and vibrant urban environments that cater for the diverse needs of commuters and travellers. A lot of research and advocacy has been done for Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and Transit Node Development (TND) and they have tangible benefits for urban growth in general and travel demand management in particular, however, the ‘Third Space’ concept is the lowest level of activation at transit stations and is a much easier intervention to implement. The illustration below shows how Third Spaces compare to TOD and TND concepts and their relevance in Auckland.

Third Spaces in Transport

The concept of adding multiple functions to the transit station area makes it more popular and encourages higher footfall. It also reduces the additional trips that a person would have to make to avail the functions of the Third Space.

The scenario of having Third Space outside the usual ‘travel to work’ journey is illustrated below.

Third space example





When we have the Third Space outside of the ‘travel to work’ journey, it can add up to two additional trips to the person’s journey. These additional trips can influence the traveller’s mode choice and discourage them from using public transport. In contrast, having the Third Space integrated with the transit facility saves overall trips and subsequently benefits the traveller in time and cost.

Third space example 2

Challenges faced by Third Space

In the current urban context, many third spaces are about spending money. This may be because it is a safe and monitored place. Paid commercial areas are also maintained privately and do not cost the ratepayer directly. However, paid commercial areas are driven by real estate value and market forces which may not be advantageous to transit facilities.

Budget cuts have seen the maintenance of public spaces (parks, libraries etc.) be the first to go and without the right amenities such as toilets, good lighting, and surveillance, safety is compromised, particularly so for women. If not designed appropriately, open areas and town squares may feel exposed and become prone to antisocial behaviour.

Questions for the Planner

Third spaces are the low-hanging fruit that can mean the difference between a cold functional space and a thriving, attractive space for people to gather, benefitting commuters and authorities alike. When considering transit facility designs it will be useful to ask ourselves:

  • Do our design guidelines do enough to recognise transit stations as a potential Third Space?
  • Is the concept of ‘Third Space’ the easy solution to make our transit stations attractive and popular?



Debajeet Baruah

Associate Transportation Planner