Beloved community is alive and well at Third Place Commons, Lake Forest Park’s indoor park!
Picture a sizeable common space, under an atrium that lets in natural light. It is ringed with locally owned cafes, and next to a bookstore. People talk and eat around a motley assortment of tables. Some work at laptop computers.
I live in Lake Forest Park—a town of about 12,000 people on the very northern edge of Seattle, Washington. Our town center, the mall, was a dreary place that never lived up to its potential–until 1998 when Ron Sher leased space in the Lake Forest Park Town Centre. He opened Third Place Books to which was attached a large commons space with a stage and five locally owned cafes. He was inspired by sociologist Ray Oldenberg’s observation that humans need three places: their home, their work place, and a common public space where they can be with others.
My family and I can walk to Third Place Commons for a staggering variety of offerings from community and near-by groups. And our community is enriched by the fact that people from all over the area come to the Commons to enjoy its free amenities. Private groups can also gather in the Stadler Room at the back of the
Commons. Music and performing arts include offerings from Lake Forest Park El- ementary School students, a community band, Northwest Ballet School, Shoreline Community College Jazz Ensemble, and many more. Community partners have collaborated in offerings as diverse as a Gardening Fair, a Care Conversation on Intercultural Communication; grandparent support and education; Par- ent/Caregiver/Child playgroups; Teen Book Club: Pizza and books; Healthcare Fairs, Transportation Fairs, Playback Theater telling the stories of audience mem- bers, and an LFP History Project! Last year more than 900 formal events hap- pened at the Commons!
From May through mid-October, we buy fresh local food at the Friends sponsored Sunday Farmers Market. The Farmer’s Market attracts people from all economic circumstances through its offering of market dollars and other financial support.
Third Place Commons, originally conceived as an adjunct to the business of Third Place Books, is run by an unusual partnership. Citizens, non-profits, mall businesses, and local government all got together with Third Place Books to make the Commons a real community place. A three-legged partnership includes businesses, government and citizen groups all working together in the non-profit Friends of Third Place Commons.
AND, day and night, I meet people at Third Place for work and/or coffee, bump into them for conversation and news, listen to an author read from a new book, or just sit with my latte and read a weekly newspaper!
For many years I felt my town was only a suburb, with real “life” happening in Se- attle. Two factors have changed my experience of Lake Forest Park. One is the ex- istence of Third Place Commons in the heart of our local economic and political life. The other is the spirit of “Yes!” coming from Friends of Third Place Com- mons. That “Yes!” invites the gift exchange that is the root meaning of the word “community”! Countless compassionate actions happen in the Commons, weaving the web of the civic culture that sustains community. Instead of being a property owner in an accidental suburb of Seattle, thanks to Third Place Commons, I am now a member of a community in Lake Forest Park, Washington!