Abundance of ‘third places’ make Dutch cities more enjoyable

An inviting wooden sculpture garden in Amsterdam. (Photos: Taylor Griggs/BikePortland)

— This post is part of BikePortland Staff Writer Taylor Griggs’ trip through Europe. See previous dispatches here.

Yesterday I wrote about Amsterdam’s effort to replace on-street car parking spots with urban greenery and bike parking, an initiative partly meant to create more public spaces in the city for people to enjoy. And as I pointed out in that story, residents of Amsterdam’s city center are not necessarily wanting for urban parks as it is: it seems like everywhere you turn, there is some kind of carfree public plaza for people to enjoy.

People in the U.S. have been yearning for these types of public spaces lately. The term “third places” went viral on TikTok a few months ago, popularizing the concept of a place outside the home or workplace where you can just sit and relax without the pressure of needing to buy something.

And when you look around, it’s true: we don’t have very many of these in most cities in the United States, including in Portland. Yes, Portland has several gorgeous, large parks that I wouldn’t trade for the world. But compared to what you’ll come upon in Amsterdam, these places are few and far between. (Although thanks in part to former Portland Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty’s efforts and a federal funding boost, this could change soon.)

The presence of all these spaces in The Netherlands also makes it much more pleasurable for city residents to live in very dense housing without room for individual backyards and gardens. Who needs a lawn to water when the city will do it for you at the park next door? So, here are some photos of my favorite public plazas and playgrounds I came upon while wandering around Utrecht and Amsterdam in the past several days. You’ll notice that many of them aren’t very big (though some are) — abundance is more important than size.

I hope you’re enjoying these dispatches. I’ve seen and experienced so much it’s challenging to condense it all and find the most post-able chunks. Stay tuned for a funny story where I was stopped by a police officer for riding in a pedestrian-only zone (and other innocent mishaps).

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

14 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Boyrd
Boyrd
1 year ago

Yes, lots of small public parks in Amsterdam. Some big ones, too. Definitely check out vondelpark. It reminds me a bit of laurelhurst, though quite a bit larger.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago

I remember visiting 3rd Place Books in Bothell Washington in 2000 and the term was common jargon among planners in Portland at the time – it’s nice the term is returning again – even if the concept is as old as time – basically any place that’s neither your home nor your place of work, but any third “neutral” place you can meet someone, where everyone is equally comfortable or uncomfortable.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

I love these places, but in Portland they’d be taken over pretty quickly and wouldn’t be available to “regular folx”. Sad.

Why can’t we have nice things?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Watts

“regular folx”? wow that is really messed up way to put it Watts. I don’t think there are irregular folks.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

Yes, regular folx who don’t take over a place meant for everyone to share, who don’t vandalize and trash our shared resources, menace other people, or set things on fire.

You know, people who aren’t anti-social. Is that really so messed up?

Nina
Nina
1 year ago

It honestly didn’t strike me as messed up…it just seems like he was trying to find a euphemism to describe what’s been going on in public spaces throughout the city over the last few years. I don’t think it’s fair to call that messed up.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

We already have existing places like this (just not as many, an important point made in the article). And yet, I feel comfortable going to any of them alone or with my family. They’re not “taken over” by whatever the opposite of regular folx is supposed to mean. So no, I don’t think they’d be “taken over pretty quickly”.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I’ve found needles on every Portland playground my kids used to frequent; I’ve also visited probably 100 plazas and parklets overseas like the ones shown, and I never once found a needle in any of them.

That’s one example of the cultural difference between there and here. Regular folx are the ones who don’t leave dirty needles where children play.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I remember visiting urban parks in Germany and Switzerland that had needles on the pathways and on the grounds, which amazed me, plus lots of graffiti, which didn’t amaze me at all – even Paris was full of graffiti and human excrement. On the other hand, Dresden had a large crew every morning who would go around and thoroughly clean every park, walkway and pathway with huge industrial vacuums and power wash off all the graffiti off of buildings from the previous evening – they had a lot of civic pride and were quite willing to pay for the cleaning – it was a community priority. Mainz, Aarau, Bruges, Nuremberg and Trier were also exceptionally clean communities.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago

Any world class city has these types of public spaces, the question is: does Portland Oregon qualify?

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

NO!

Lenny Anderson
Lenny Anderson
1 year ago

All public spaces… parks, libraries, transit, schools… are subject to abuse; the task is to nurture what I call “density etiquette.” Most people get this; unfortunately, it only takes one or a few to dominate a space and ruin it for the many. It’s up to all of us to gently enforce these unwritten rules.

Now a pitch for a mini park in the Central Eastside where Burnside, Sandy and 12th Avenue meet. The City, thanks Sam, sorted out that old 6-way intersection and a new block was created. It’s surrounded by new apartment buildings and should be converted from auto storage to a public space.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Lenny Anderson

It’s up to all of us to gently enforce these unwritten rules.

I fully concur, but it’s more challenging and dangerous to do that these days.

Aaron Kuehn
Aaron Kuehn
1 year ago

Excellent and timely report! This is exactly where my mind is right now for Portland next steps. I see a direct correlation between 3rd places, popular bicycle travel networks, and wayfinding fundamentals like landmarks. What better way to explore a city than riding along a chain of unique plazas, with sculptures and art (official and improvised), and being surrounded by people, natural features, and dynamic opportunities. Seating and drinking fountains help you stay longer, and so do bathrooms and cafes and other street vendors. If it were up to me, there would be 3rd places at every major bikeway intersection, or vice-versa.