The following is from our Downtown column published monthly in EU Jacksonville.

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 5.33.07 PMIf our homes and workplaces are our first two social environments, a third place is anywhere else we go to socialize. Coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, third places are everyday gathering places that are the anchors of community life. They are easily accessible – often walkable, are welcoming and comfortable with a set of “regulars,” and usually include food or drinks as a key part of the experience. These are the places where we go to make our own entertainment.

Great Downtowns have great third places. Urban living means trading in backyards for a variety of walkable hangouts. From the bar to the bookstore to the park bench, third places are key in attracting urban workers, young professionals and empty nesters to live Downtown.

In the heart of Downtown, redevelopment is underway on the historic Barnett Building. Emerging as an entrepreneurial epicenter, the building will not only be home to One Spark headquarters, KYN and CoWork Jax, but also to 80 apartments geared toward creative young professionals. Residents and workers will be able to take full advantage of key community amenities such as a green roof on the fourth floor patio and a collaborative conference center and lounge on the 18th floor. A block’s walk away sits our city’s oldest park and original third place, Hemming Plaza.

“We see Hemming Plaza as the front yard for everything we’re doing,” said Steve Atkins, Principal SouthEast Group, the developer behind The Barnett. “A revitalized, reprogrammed Hemming Plaza will be a key community asset for our residents and a central park for Downtown.”

In recent years, Hemming Plaza has been an example of how a third place can leave many feeling disconnected by not engaging the community through activities, events and vendors. Great public spaces don’t just happen. Meticulous behind-the-scenes management is the recipe for success. Pending City Council approval, the Downtown Investment Authority has awarded an $800,000 management contract to the Friends of Hemming Park, with a board comprised of DVI’s Terry Lorince, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville’s Diane Brunet-Garcia, historian and arts agitator Wayne Wood, Bill Prescott and One Spark’s Vince Cavin.

This management contract will ensure that our city’s oldest third space reconnect with the community through daily activation, cleanings and security. A constant slate of programs, like yoga classes, a reading corner and food truck rallies that evolves to adapt to the community’s wants and needs—especially Downtown residents and workers within walking distance—will be the hallmark of a successful Hemming Plaza.

“Although the park declined for a number of years, it is now making a resurgence,” said Wayne Wood. “The recent One Spark festival and the ambitious goals of Friends of Hemming Park are indicative of the community’s commitment to make this park the center of the growing renaissance of Downtown. Hemming Plaza is on the threshold of becoming not just a pleasant place to visit but a major attraction in the heart of our city.”

Whether it’s a green roof in your apartment building or the park down the street, or simply reading in the Main Library’s scenic courtyard, playing trivia on Burrito Gallery’s back patio or walking along the Riverwalk with neighbors or coworkers, places like these are essential to creating a sense of community. It begins with you – get out and discover Downtown’s third places.