Ray Oldenburg (born 1932) is an American urban sociologist who is known for writing about the importance of informal public gathering places for a functioning civil society, democracy, and civic engagement. He coined the term third place and is the author of the books Celebrating The Third Place and The Great Good Place, which was a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice for 1989.

Oldenburg is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. He received his B.S., Mankato State University, 1954; M.A., University of Minnesota, 1965; and Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1968.

Oldenburg suggests that beer gardens, main streets, pubs, cafes, coffeehouses, post offices, and other "third places" are the heart of a community's social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy. They promote social equality by leveling the status of guests, provide a setting for grassroots politics, create habits of public association, and offer psychological support to individuals and communities.

Oldenburg identifies that in modern suburban societies time is primarily spent in isolated first (home) and second (work) places. In contrast, third places offer a neutral public space for a community to connect and establish bonds. Third places "host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work."

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