Culture and third places in cities: Highlights from the Culture Forum in Ghent

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130 representatives from 64 cities met in Ghent on 25-27 October 2017 to discuss the role of culture in shaping third places in cities.

The theme was chosen because third places are playing a growing role in cities: third places function as meeting places for a variety of people, as spaces for cooperation, connection and inspiration. 
In Ghent, we shared local examples and developed recommendations on how to develop successful models for new public spaces for culture in cities.

The following current and forthcoming challenges were identified:

o   What are third places?

Home is the first place, the office is the second, and third places are open to everyone. They come in many forms, from creative breeding grounds to cultural centres, from neighbourhood gardens to libraries and to open public spaces.

o   From cultural and creative places to third places

Many cities are currently rethinking their cultural and creative spaces to adapt them to new cultural challenges. These include the digital challenge, changing demographics and new audiences’ expectations (read this article for more information on cities’ cultural challenges). New cultural and creative spaces tend to be third places, where activities are mixing.

o   Example of third places where culture is central

Shared examples of third places included: libraries; former industrial buildings reconverted in cultural hubs; new-generation concert halls in Utrecht; a former chapel turned into an arts centre in Leeds; and an open stage to be used by locals in Tampere.

o   Third places are about and for people. Ask them what they want!

Aat Vos, our keynote speaker for the forum, identifies five dimensions that need to be taken into account when developing third places: people, places, experience, programming and future. Third places are for people: ask them what they want! A good example comes from Oodi, Helsinki’s future central library, where 2300 ‘dreams’ from locals were collected. Aat’s speech is available here for our members.

o   How to develop third places for all? A non-exhaustive checklist

Develop an open and transparent place, both from the inside and the outside; know your users; make the place accessible for free; create meaningful experiences; diversify the offer; merge public and commercial; and don’t shy away from experimentation.

Focus on De Krook, Ghent’s library of the future

De Krook is a good example of a third place. It is a new landmark for and a new cultural centre in Ghent, a place to read, to learn, to live, and to simply be. It is a library of partnerships (working with 30 local partners) which makes it so much more than a house of books. De Krook’s goal is to help people understand the changing world and help them add meaning to it. Read a detailed case study here!

What do cities need from the EU?

o   European research projects would be instrumental in reflecting on what are the local cultural and creative spaces of the future: what will they look like? What activities will they host? How will they be managed? 

o   Cities also need to keep exchanging knowledge on how to develop third places for all. European funded programmes would usefully support cities in sharing knowledge and adapting successful examples to other local contexts.


Next EUROCITIES Culture Forum will take place in Dresden on 25-27 April 2018 and will focus on links between culture, social cohesion and democracy in cities. 

EUROCITIES staff contact

Julie Herve