Building Community through ‘Third Places’


Much of the activity in cities occurs in its various public and private spaces. How this space is organized is a means by which our interactions can be choreographed and encouraged.

One space that is important to citizen wellbeing is called the third place. Not the home and not the workplace, a third place is somewhere that promotes conversations and encounters with friends and neighbours, often with some sort of shared connection. The feeling evoked is a sense of belonging. This could be a café, a pub, a park, or a library. Imagine what Vancouver would be like without our beaches, Stanley Park, or the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Ray Oldenburg, author of the book “The Great Good Place”, calls these spaces essential to community and public life. He argues that third places are “central to local democracy and community vitality”. He adds that though they are radically different from a home-like setting, the third place is “remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends”.

At Quest, part of our mandate is to build community. We have relationships with many social service agencies in Vancouver, and provide volunteer and work placement programs for those in the neighbourhood. We also operate several of our very own ‘third places’: our three low-cost grocery stores. Food can be an item that evokes a shared connection. It is a basic necessity of life and has the incredible ability to bring together people. Food can become a powerful relationship builder with family members, friends, and even strangers.

Our stores provide a welcoming environment from people of all walks to life to shop for the food they need to fuel their bodies. Most importantly, we provide a variety of options for people to choose from. We believe that income level should not prevent people from having access to healthy, nutritious food on a regular basis.

We can thank our friendly staff, helpful volunteers, and wonderful clients for creating this environment in our stores.

What’s your favourite third place?

Quest Volunteer Spotlight – Steven

In 1994, Steven arrived in BC. His cross country journey started in Sarnia, Ontario, a thriving community of 150 thousand. He came to BC to work in the Cruise Ship industry, but when it came time to set sail he had already committed to work in the city. With a career in food services, some of his past positions include International Trainer for The Rainforest Café and line cook for The Keg, as well as five star resorts in Jasper and Banff.

When asked about the differences between home and the Lower Mainland, Steven said that he had never seen street life like we have here. Working downtown has been “a really big eye opener.” He describes some of the hardest and grittiest parts of what the Downtown East Side has to offer.

As a Cordon Blue School graduate and a Red Seal Chef, Steven has attained one of the highest honors achievable in the cooking industry. Why does he choose to volunteer at Quest? Steven has osteoporosis in his back and cannot put in the physically intense 12 hour shifts that are required as a Chef. Steven heard about Quest via word of mouth.

Steven inquired about a volunteer position, started volunteering right away, and has been a solid member of this organization for over a year. Steven likes to help out people who are in most need. “Everyone thinks that people in the DTES are ungrateful, but they’re not.”

At the Hastings location he has taken on a leadership role, organizing and directing other volunteers. He volunteers his time five days a week. Steven’s past career has helped with Quest’s efforts to rescue food. “As a chef, nothing gets thrown away in my kitchen. It’s all useable.” His focus is on using what is on hand. If a fresh item is getting past its prime, there are ways to use it still. “People can make so much from so little.”