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Engagement and Third Spaces Lab

Exploring democratic systems, strategies, and spaces in the 21st Century.

New technology offers more chances to connect City government and its citizens. Government must not only deliver basic services, but also create an open culture of civic action and conversation. We’re looking to find ways to make civic engagement more meaningful for more people.

Introducing 'Third Spaces'

In 2016, we asked people around Boston to describe “home” as part of a study on housing. They talked about qualities that are usually not part of the housing conversation. They talked about "third spaces." Our definition:


Places separate from where you sleep (your first space) or where you work to make ends-meet (your second space). They are the spaces in-between, where you freely encounter other people, ideas, and experiences.

These can be public spaces, like a park or a trail or a civic center. They can be private spaces, like a barbershop or a church or a coffee shop. They can be temporary spaces, like a block party or a hill covered in snow. They can even be digital spaces, like a community forum. Third spaces can be where community gets created and information gets shared. They're places where we can feel rejuvenated and safe among friends. They can also be spaces where we experience the unexpected, or meet people we’ve never met before. Sometimes it’s a place “where everybody knows your name.” And sometimes "our place is the very house of difference," as Audre Lorde reminds us.

Guiding values

Boston's "Third Spaces" should be:


We believe that Bostonians should be able to find spaces where they feel welcomed.


We believe that Boston's third spaces are the strongest when then connect us to each other and reinforce our connection to the City.


We believe that the most powerful third spaces allow people to create something of lasting value. This might be physical (like a piece of art), social (like a political movement), or even the reshaping of the space itself into something new.


In this time of political divisiveness and dissent, it’s more important than ever that every person feel cared for by their community  especially the most vulnerable among us.


Spaces that foster social cohesion across racial divides are more apt to survive and thrive after the unpredictable occurs. We believe all our spaces should be viewed through a resilient and racial equity lens.


As our communities grow and people change, we believe our spaces too should be able to evolve over time as new needs and values emerge. Spaces that can change with time and provide multiple uses to diverse populations are highly encouraged. 


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