“Capitalism Gone Bad”: 30 People Remember Third Places That Have Disappeared

Sociologists have noticed that people spend most of their time in one of three places. The first is their home, the second is where they work, and the third is a common area where they socialize. Some examples of the latter include libraries, parks, churches, coffee shops, and community centers, which are very important for human relationships.

However, these third places are disappearing due to factors like digitalization, the cost of living, and the pandemic. To attract more attention to their importance, older adults are sharing their favorite ‘hangout spots’ that should be preserved for the sake of our mental health. Scroll down to find them, and let us know what you think about the topic in the comments below!

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While you're at it, don't forget to check out a conversation with internet culture writer Nathan Allebachwho went viral in 2022 after posting a TikTok video on this topic.


Drive-In Movie Theater!!! With pajamas on as a kid and being able to play on the monkey bars there while mom got snacks at the snack bar!!!

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Librarian here. Unless you live in one of the areas where libraries are suddenly hated and are having their funding cut to shreds, you can go there. Please come in. It’s free and warm and there are free books and computers and you only have to pay if you return a book late or want to print something.


It is the same in my country Malaysia as well. You cant even enter some parks without paying an entrance fee and you’re not going to be able to get there without a car. A public beach in my state is going to start development into another private tourist hotel any day now and we won’t even be able to see the sunset without paying ridiculous amounts of money as parking fee. I wish we just had somewhere to chill and meet people for free.

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One of the earliest examples of third places are tea houses tracing back to ancient Chinese communities and the Jin dynasty, around 265–316 AD. At first, they were considered a symbol of status where people could frivolously spend their money on tea in public. 

Later, they evolved into meeting places where local people celebrated and had business and friendly meetings daily. These were the hubs where they shared their creative ideas and generated innovations.

Flash forward to the 17th century, and the owners of coffee houses were severely punished by Sultan Murad IV of the Ottoman Empire and King Charles II of England because they felt threatened by the ‘radical ideas’ that were shared in these places.


If you lived through the 80’s and 90’s, the mall was very much a public plaza for seeing your friends, group dates, or just stretching your legs.

Now, did we still spend money a lot of the time? Sure. If 11 year old me had money in my pocket, I was buying a snack at the food court, maybe some Magic cards or a CD.

But probably about half the trips I went to the mall from ages 11-14, I bought nothing. And my friends with less money didn’t feel out of place, because we were there to walk around, talk, and play cards.

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In my neck of the woods, a lot of third places closed because of people behaving badly. Once upon a time, people knew how to behave in groups, obeyed the unwritten social contract, shared common spaces.

“Share the road.” with other drivers. Be nice to pedestrians and bicyclists. Wait your turn.

Keep your voice down. Don’t blare your music. Share the space, let others enjoy it too.

Y’all can rag on boomers all you want, but we had numerous public spaces, and knew how to behave in them. We cleaned up our own garbage and left the place nice for the next people. “Excuse me” and “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “How are you?” and “Nice weather we’ve been having” were common usage.

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There’s been an incredible breakdown in the unwritten social contract, leading to the closing a lot of those spaces. People have gotten into my face for reasons I can’t comprehend. People barge through a space, bumping into others because pausing to let someone else pass is foreign to them. It’s as if being kind to others is showing weakness.

There’s little warmth in public places any more. Little eye contact. Kindness hardly exists.. People take and take, but give nothing. People are incredibly loud and self-centered and they are never ever wrong.

The breakdown of the social contract appears to be culminating with Orange Man ….


My neighborhood has this tiny plaza located off a street full of local shops and restaurants. Its like 60′ by 80′, its basically just an empty lot between two buildings that’s been paved with stones and has a few benches and a fountain.

Every single evening that the weather is even remotely tolerable its packed with people. Parents with kids in strollers. Teenagers with their bikes chilling after school. Friends hanging out and chatting over pastries from the bakery next door. Local musicians playing live music in the summer. Its this tiny little island of space where people can just…exist, and say hi to each other, and enjoy being outside and around other people. If you build these spaces *people will come*. It doesn’t take much. It doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. You just need to carve out some space people lounge in, and give them local businesses they can choose to patronize without requiring them to spend money. And crucially *they have to be able to reach it without driving a car*.

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The term third place was popularized by urban sociologist Raymond Oldenberg, who described it as “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.”

Writer, social media director, and brand strategist Nathan Allebach, who went viral in 2022 after posting a TikTok video on this topic, said to Bored Panda, “Third spaces have traditionally been the low-to-no-cost entry places where communities gathered. They could be public squares where there might be a fountain, statue, or bulletin board; they could be libraries, cafes, barber shops, pubs, music venues, skate parks, or any other place with a magnetic pull for people to hang out for more than just a quick purchase.”


“Why aren’t arcades a thing anymore?” I wonder as I pre-order another game on Steam. The door bell rings. Amazon delivery. “We used to have so much fun at malls. I wonder why they all closed down. Probably a conspiracy to remove all third places…” The phrase is familiar, something I’ve been seeing a lot online, and I spend a lot of time online. After all that’s where all my friends are. Who would want to go outside and meet people? It’s 2024. I play my RPGs on Discord now. Makes it so much easier than having to go to a cafe or someone else’s home. Cafes are all closing down now anyway, you wouldn’t find one if you wanted to. I don’t want to, obviously, but hypothetically.

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Dr. Narae Lee, a scholar at Pennsylvania State University, has researched the impact of these locations and proposes that “one of the important features of ‘third places’ is social contact, either directly or indirectly,” Lee says. “In third places, you can enjoy direct social interaction with other people by chatting and enjoying activities with them.”


I miss the bookstores that had a cafe. A place to explore and find new authors, relax and enjoy a coffee with other literary minded people. Talk with staff about what was new and exciting. All gone now.

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Dance halls, and dancing in general used to be massively popular. If you were in an American town of more than 1000 or so people you could count on at least one social dance a week, often more.

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They help us form our individual and collective identities beyond our home or work. In a sense, they are a communal social hub that is becoming more important to our psychological well-being while living in a society where loneliness is increasing. Even if you aren’t actively participating in socializing, just showing up can do wonders. 

“It’s crucial for people to escape from a sense of loneliness and build a sense of community. Some people go to third places to be surrounded by other people, watch them, and rest while just enjoying the ambiance and white noise,” Lee says.


I miss them so much. This may sound gross, but I miss the smell of the VHSs and DVDs. I miss going in either with a plan or without one and simply browsing to find a random movie to watch. I miss picking out candy and pulling out my Blockbuster card. It was a highlight of my week, especially each weekend.

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Soda fountains.

I recently read a story about a girl in the 1930s who enjoyed a strawberry soda at a soda fountain for a nickel. I looked it up, and minimum wage in 1930 was 25 cents an hour. So at minimum, someone would need to work for twelve minutes to afford one strawberry soda at a soda fountain.

Counterpoint, current federal minimum wage is $7.25. Priced proportionaly, that soda should cost $1.25. In my area, it should cost $3.20 based on state minimum wage. But I can’t even get a basic black coffee for that price from the local coffee shops. A bottled 20 oz soda costs about $3 from the local liquor store, but I’m sure it’s not as good as the fresh soda served from the fountain. And the store is designed for me to grab what I want out of the cooler, pay, and leave.

So it’s not just that there’s no places we can’t be at and not spend money. It’s that the money we’re expected to spend is out of proportion to, say, what some mid-century teens were expected to spend while hanging out at the local soda fountain.

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Music (the media, not instruments) stores, especially the ones that let you sample music!

Bookstores aren’t gone but there are far less of them.

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In the 1950s, these social hubs resided in the local diner, the library, the bowling hall, and hair salons. The 1990s and the emergence of the iconic TV show Friends again popularized coffee shops where people could come in to meet up with others, catch up about their day, and dissociate from their daily routines.


And what are you going to do? Are you going to advocate for third places? Are you going to attend municipal council meetings? Will you sign petitions? Protest? Are you going to contact your municipality and tell them?

Because if you do things will change. Third spaces will come back.

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My hometown closed its only remaining movie theater during the pandemic. at that point, the ***ONLY*** form of entertainment (Excluding bars and restaurants) is a concert venue and a theater venue. in a City with a population of 205,918.

This is the second biggest city in New England, after Boston. And they wonder why the only thing kids do is play videogames and do d***s.


I always think about how if I woke tomorrow as a billionaire, I’d like to just open a big a*s arcade or something like it that operates at a loss just because it’d be cool to do. I have the same aspirations as a 5 year old.

Seeing a huge opportunity there, Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, changed the layout of their store to include warm colors, coffee tones, and comfortable seating. He was aware of the need for community and described their new design as “intended from day one to build a Third Place between home and work… at a time in America when people are hungry for human connection.”


The mall is the biggest one that hardly exist today in the form like they did prior to the 00s.

Things I used to do as a kid in the 90s and 00s that I don’t do anymore is things like:

The arcade, stand alone ones were already dying when I was a kid but they did have them in malls, which also are dying/dead now. I don’t know of any Malls today that have arcade in them like they were in my youth, a Dave and Busters is the closest thing but not the same.

Bowling, way too expensive today compared to when I was a kid can you can do everything for like 2 dollars a game + shoes. Today you’re going to be spending 20 bucks for the same, unless you want to show up on a weekday morning to get 5 dollar games.

Movies, exactly the same as bowling. WAY too expensive. It also has the double whammy of streaming basically killing the urge to watch a movie.

Browsing Blockbuster. Netflix killed that off, but it was already on the way out in the 00s. It was one of the places where I was like an 8 year old befriending the high schooler employee about films and games and it not being some creepy ass/sus friendship. A blockbuster employee taught me how to burn games and dvds and how to modify a PS2 to make use of those burnt discs.

Gamestop/ Best Buy. Midnight game releases were events that people did, the death of physical media killed that in the mid 10s.

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“We complain children and teens don’t go outside but we have totslly removed every single thing for them to do that isn’t digital” is probably the pinnacle of why i struggle with maintaining a healthy living routine, along with the fact that money gets tighter every month.


I think the analogies fall flat, but I agree with the sentiment.

ESPECIALLY with children. I feel like when I grew up the world was much more friendly to me as a child.

Fast food places had play areas, we had cool places like FunScape, Disney Quest, Discovery Zone.

Theaters had massive arcade sections (some still do).

All these places just do not exist anymore for kids. Their bound to their houses. I mean sure they could go outside but some places are just endless suburb streets of private property. No woods, no rivers, no forts to build.

Kids need their own place to go.

However, with the introduction of the internet and Wi-Fi, these places started to lose the community aspect. Now many people come to them, put in their earbuds, keep their heads down, and focus on their electronic devices. Coffee shops or more specifically, Starbucks, are embracing it and changing their layouts once again. From previous inviting and communal spaces, locations have reduced the number of seats and introduced uncomfortable furniture, and blank walls, encouraging people to leave promptly.


The dog park is my third space. It turned from me going there to watch dogs alone to help with mental health, to now I have a dog of my own and watching her play with all her friends brings me such joy.


I worked at a Pizza Hut in 1990 – 91, and that restaurant still had a booming dine-in business. Fast forward 15 or 20 tears later, that branch closed and reopened as delivery-only operation about 2 blocks away. Around 3 or 4 years ago my wife and I, feeling nostalgic, took our kids to a different area Pizza Hut that still had a dining area, and at around dinner time on a weekend (can’t recall if it was Friday or Saturday) it was a damn ghost town. Two other tables being used, maybe. And they still had the island for the salad bar, but it was all closed down, at least on that night. Pizza was pretty good, but the experience otherwise was just depressing.

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I feel this a lot. I live in an eastern european city, close to a million people, and i often don’t wanna go home after uni cuz it’s boring and lonely, but there’s quite literally nothing for me to do. I end up wandering city streets buying myself small things like pressed leaf tea and coffee and candy bars just to feel something, just to feel like I’ve got something to do. Its kinda sad.

Lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated even more third places. Gyms, bars, restaurants, and libraries were forced to pause their operations, which led some of them to close down permanently.

Allebach points out another reason why these locations are disappearing, and that is the hardly walkable town infrastructure. “Prior to WWII, every small town and big city alike was built to be walkable because walking was people’s primary means of transportation. You needed to get to the local corner store, bar, butcher, blacksmith, and so on within a reasonable distance.

Since WWII and the mass production of motor vehicles, countries have begun redesigning their infrastructure toward car dependency. Roads slowly replaced train and trolley lines, and housing was slowly built far away from urban centers.”


In my literature class we had a poem about front porches, and discussed their impact on the community as places to greet friends and neighbors, hang out and talked about how modern houses have pretty well eliminated this in many places.

Discussed so much evidence that society has shifted dramatically into a less face to face, friendly place. Much less community. I barely know my neighbors, and most of my classmates said the same.

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“There’s a lot more to this history, obviously,” he continues. “But now, decades later, we have a development pattern that requires a car to get anywhere, making third places harder to sustain financially. That, coupled with the last 20 years of technology, via the internet, social media, smartphones, streaming, and video games, people are increasingly atomized. It’s more comfortable and easy to stay home and consume media, rather than drive 20 minutes to your nearest park or downtown.”


I grew up in a somewhat rural area. The only 3rd place I can think of was the hobby shop in the mall. We would play yugioh, magic, DND, ect, and just chill there all day. But once we started getting our own apartments / houses, we would mostly hang out there. That continues to this day, although we are a bit older.

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For kids/teens, the woods. I spent so much time wandering the woods behind my house when I was a kid and going to kegger parties as a teen, and all those woods are gone now. It’s so upsetting that there’s so little nature left and that kids today don’t get to have those experiences.

Something that can help preserve these places, according to him, is changing zoning and parking laws. “The problem is that the vast majority of suburbs, small towns, and cities alike have adopted highly restrictive zoning and parking laws over time that make walkable housing de facto illegal to build. On most land in most towns, you can’t even build a duplex without going through months of working with the local zoning board.

Fundamentally, our zoning and parking laws have to change if we want our development pattern to change. A library, cafe, or barbershop is much more likely to not only survive financially but thrive as a place to spend time when it’s located in an active downtown rather than a dead suburb.”

He concludes, “When we legalize different styles of development, we can see how different people would choose to live, rather than the current status quo, which creates an artificial scarcity of walkable communities, making most of them unaffordable for most people.”


I’m talking about the US in specific, but to fix the death of third places you must first fix the death of walkability and bikeability.

If any kind of social activity for leisure requires the ownership of a multi-thousand dollar machine that needs constant fuel, maintenance, and insurance premiums, then yes you’ve essentially locked out *a lot* of people from accessing third places. Public transport is garbage in 99% of places to the point that it simply makes it not worth it.

And this isn’t just a case of “oh yeah let’s retrofit sidewalks everywhere”. People live *too f*****g far apart*. There are likely millions of suburban developments in the country that are perhaps an hour’s walk – but a mere 10 minute drive – from anything that could be construed as a central community area.

This in itself does something very damaging to our psyche in that our social interactions become atomized and bookended with “I must leave at this time to get here at this time to have this amount of social time doing X and then leave at this time to arrive home at this time”. Nothing flows into each other anymore. Interactions, meetings, and conversations aren’t organic.

Communities in the US are way, *way* too dispersed for their own good, and as such are way too reliant on cars for basically f*****g everything. Third places cannot thrive in this context no matter how much conscious effort we put into it. Proximity, and critical mass of numbers, are huge factors in the success of third places.

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When I was little he had a half track as we called it that had been built in the creek by multiple cohorts of children. The first group of kids started it sometime in the 5th or 6th grade, around high school or so they can get to better places, so they showed that place to the Friends of their siblings and the younger kids. Eventually those kids got older and showed the place to their younger siblings and cousins and so on.

Heading out in the middle of nowhere where it couldn’t be seen from the road, and could only be found by waiting across a creek was a track made in the dirt for bikes by and for kids.

By the time my age group was going there regularly, we had some banked turns, a quarter pipe to drop into the track, and me and about 15 other kids all worked to make a mogul section in the straightaway. Any given day you would go there there’d be at least another 10 kids. One or two of which were there for the first time and you got to meet someone new and show them your favorite part of the track and spread the history of this place.

No of course there was eventually a half pipe and a quarter pipe made out of dirt, so a bunch of us were eating s**t and just absolutely wrecking ourselves on this course. This eventually led to the adults figuring out where it was.

The city came and bulldozed the course. So we started rebuilding it. They came and bulldozed it again and then paved over it with cement. Flat cement with benches at the end of it.

So we started bringing our skateboards and rollerblades and using the benches to practice our grinds. So the city put in studs at the edge of everything so that we couldn’t do that anymore either.

Needless to say it stopped being a good hangout place for kids, most of those kids I would see three times a week I never saw again in my life. The ones that I did were hooked on d***s because there was literally nothing else to do but sit in our rooms and get high.

We’re hell bent on making sure no one has anything to do and then complaining when people aren’t doing things.

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Much of it is a side-effect of what I refer to as ‘capitalism gone bad’. Some decades ago, corporate America fully embraced a philosophy of ‘profit above all else’, and that meant any social conscience by large and far went out the window. If f*****g people over meant you made fat stacks of cash, then that was acceptable. How this relates to the subject of this post, is that a community center or skating rink doesn’t make ‘fat stacks of cash’, they usually operate barely in the black at best, so if some corporation can buy up that property, and if necessary bribe some county officials to re-zone it, they’ll do it, and put something in it’s place that make the ‘fat stacks of cash’ they want — and if that f***s over the local community, *tough s**t*. Someone complains they’ll say “oh, well, we brought JOBS to the area!” and stand all tall and proud like they did a good thing.

I also personally believe there are elements of our own government that don’t *want* people venturing outside their homes unless it’s to go to work or to buy supplies, they’d rather people be corralled into their homes and *stay there* otherwise. Among these I speak of are police; if you haven’t noticed they’ve become more and more the ‘jackbooted thugs with badges and guns’ that I sometimes speak of. It’s fairly common throughout human history that police, left unchecked for too long, become a power unto themselves, not content to just enforce the law, but to become judge, jury — and *executioner* — all-in-one. They’d much prefer, I think, that everyone everywhere be *controlled* 24/7/365, and keeping people in their homes is one way to do that.

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The good news is that a lot of third places still exist, and they can flourish only if they attract returning regulars. Therefore, seeking out local cafes, parks, arcades, libraries, malls, bars, clubs, bookstores, community events, and yard sales can help preserve them.

For those who aren’t sure how to find them, Dr. Lee recommends tying a third space to something they’re interested in. If reading is your cup of tea, try joining a local book club where you can discuss it with other people. In case you prefer nature over everything, going to a nearby park also counts. 


We wanted to go ice skating the other week. Every single rink has a website to register for public skating sessions. Every single person going with you needs their own account. You literally just can’t show up anymore during public sessions and go skating. It really sucks.


Not the one Amtrak is talking about, but the only roller skating rink I’ve been to in Philly is the Rothman Orthopedics Rink. It’s outdoors and converts to an ice rink in winter. I find it really funny that an Orthopedic center sponsors this rink considering how much business it must be generating for them (people falling and breaking something).


In a broad sense the idea of “community center” needs to be rethought because for decades it was and has been synonymous with “place for old people,” not that this is not valid — it absolutely is, my MIL after her husband passed away craved those kinds of places — but it’s now something that more age groups want and need so we should think about how to design spaces that accommodate various age groups and interest groups. There’s also no reason that there couldn’t be commerce; what if in every other town there was a huge building with ample parking all around it, and inside there are all kinds of cool stores and restaurants?
Source: boredpanda.com

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