Trend of the Week: Co-Living
The idea of communal living, or co-living, is not a new one. It has been trialled and implemented by pockets of society for decades. Now, as it gains momentum in cities across the globe, it begs the question if finally this way of life could achieve mainstream appeal.
The rising popularity reflects many of the demographic and lifestyle trends affecting people today. Currently, 55% of the world’s population lives in cities, but by 2050 that number is projected to rise to 68%. Urban development is scrambling to meet this demand. At the same time, young people are delaying marriage or making the choice to be single indefinitely. Sky high rents often push single earners out of the market for individual accommodation. Co-living can be an innovative alternative to the traditional house share. It is well established that many millennials are being squeezed off the property ladder, but they also have a different mindset to ownership generally. Unlike older generations, who would largely derive their sense of status from material possessions, millennials covet experience. The ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle, whereby freelancers work remotely while traveling has become a reality for many and remains an aspiration for many more. The sharing economy is second nature to millennials as freelancing, co-working, and car-sharing have all become a norm. Co-living is arguably another application.
Amidst this, we are facing a supposed ‘urban loneliness’ epidemic. Co-living claims to be a tonic. There are many large co-living brands on the market, such as WeLive, Haven, Common, Quarters, and Ollie, who are all expanding their reach to more major cities each year. Node was the first to reach Ireland, but others such as Niche Living and Abode in Killarney have since followed. They mostly follow the same model and promise a community built on shared values. Residents have private rooms with access to shared open living spaces. Rooms are stylishly furnished and the buildings offer perks like cinema rooms, gyms, and event programming. An all-inclusive fee covers Wi-Fi, utilities, and sometimes housecleaning and residents benefit from more flexible lease agreements. There are co-living companies doing things a little bit differently. Bungalow, for example, works with owners of small buildings to adapt their properties into co-living spaces. Venn, also encourages their members to be active neighbours and opens many of their amenities to the local community.
Critics, irrespective, call all this glamourised college dorms for adults. Irish politicians have slammed co-living ventures as ‘unaffordable bedsits’ and scorned them for capitalising on the Irish housing crisis. This speaks to a central tension in how co-living tends to exist today. It caters to a specific demographic of mostly single, affluent professions rather than benefiting the people who stand to benefit the most. The future of co-living is a more democratic one. New York City has held competitions for developers to make this a reality. Airbnb have launched an entire arm of their business to research this. Architects are investigating ways to more effectively design homes for unrelated people living together. In the UK, Cambridge developed its first co-housing sustainable neighbourhood, Marmalade Lane, last year.
We have long lived in a world where the principle of private property is deeply embedded in our values. As communal living concepts become a desirable alternative, it reveals a universal transformation for all brands to take note of. The scale is being tipped. People are more willing to trade complete individual freedom for a powerful feeling that they belong.