No, co-living spaces probably won't solve the world's housing crisis

Shared accommodation, 1930s style. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

Many housing types are totally at odds with how people live today because people don’t have as many material goods as they used to.

Those under 30 may not own much at all. Music is digitised and streamed (Sonos, Spotify), treasured photo albums live in the cloud or within applications (Dropbox, iPhoto), tools are pooled (Open Shed), vehicles and rides are shared (Flexicar, BlaBlaCar, Uber), there’s no landline phone or TV cable, kitchen appliances are redundant with the ubiquity of food delivery services (Foodora, Deliveroo) and pets are borrowed (DogVacay, BorrowMyDoggy).

The young are also likely to be renting their accommodation. Data from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research reveal that barely 50 per cent of Australians lived in a house they owned in 2014. If this trend continues, many of today’s young Australians will never own their own home.

With transformations in digital technologies and housing-price pressures changing living habits, people will not only possess fewer physical objects in the future, but new apartment dwellers will be more likely to occupy less space at a later age. These private domestic spaces are decreasing in size to become more efficient, hopefully more affordable and, for some restless millennials, more desirable.

Corporatising the co-living model

One model to emerge in the trend towards downsising private domestic space is branded co-living spaces. Examples include The Collective (London), Zoku (Amsterdam) and Roam (London, Madrid, Miami, San Francisco, Tokyo, Ubud). In the corporatised co-living model, occupants rent private bedroom space (some bedrooms are as small as ten square metres) on a rolling contract for weeks or months, but share living and working spaces.

These collective spaces are often programmed with extracurricular activities such as yoga, business workshops, cooking classes and guest talks that promote social exchange between renters.

Systems of logistics, such as apps and chat platforms, facilitate the sharing of objects and space. Access to the co-living space is granted if you are part of a tribe (students, communes, families or business people).

China’s You+ has 25 branded branches. Image: You+.

One of the global market leaders in co-living arrangements is the Chinese You+. The company has built over ten co-living spaces and claims to house more than 10,000 people across 25 branches. Private bedrooms (with bathroom) range in size from 20 to 50 square metres. The minimum stay is six months at an average monthly rent of A$470.

At You+, people over 45 are discouraged. Couples with children or those who are anti-social are not permitted. Tech entrepreneurs tend to be given preference.

Subscribing to a co-living or dormitory arrangement such as You+ can mean lower rental costs (relative to renting a single-bedroom apartment on an above-average income), a surfeit of potential friends and a flexible rental contract. For some, this may be a genuinely desirable option. For others it may be the only option in a competitive rental market at a time when there are few affordable housing options.


Blurring the public-private divide

As private interior space contracts and shared domestic spaces become more common, the public realm is also changing.

Formerly private activities such as working and communication are occurring more frequently outside of the home, while the public sphere is taking on characteristics of interior or domestic settings: intimate spaces, interior furnishings and finishes, pocket parks, guerrilla gardening. The idea of what constitutes a home may be changing and expanding to consider urban space.

A lot of hyperbole surrounds the branded co-living spaces like You+ that have emerged under the so-called sharing economy – also known as the communal, collaborative, inclusive, gig or social economy. But there is a tension between the realities of the model and the benevolence of the act of sharing.

At the behest of the property owner, co-living spaces tend to have less fixed furnishings and cheaper construction. They also have more occupants because typical apartment spaces (living room, laundry, kitchen) are compressed. Behind You+ and its ilk there are venture capitalists looking for high returns.

A dormitory room at You+ in Guangzhou. Image: You+.

Co-living arrangements are transforming the physical typologies and financial models of housing and are the latest in a long tradition of collective housing arrangements, from the kibbutz to student dormitories to share houses, baugruppen and boarding houses.

With lone-person households to account for more than a quarter of all Australian households by 2031, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we need to rethink how we build collective and individual space in a denser city that reflects how many people want to live today – and tomorrow.

We can see that market and societal demands are pushing people towards sharing space, but many co-living arrangements do nothing to improve housing affordability in the long term.The Conversation

Timothy Moore is a PhD Candidate in the Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

A nation that doesn’t officially exist: on Somaliland’s campaign to build a national library in Hargeisa

The Somaliland National Library, Hargeisa. Image: Ahmed Elmi.

For seven years now, there’s been a fundraising campaign underway to build a new national library in a nation that doesn’t officially exist. 

Since 2010, the Somali diaspora have been sending money, to pay for construction of the new building in the capital, Hargeisa. In a video promoting the project, the British journalist Rageeh Omar, who was born in Mogadishu to a Hargeisa family, said it would be... 

“...one of the most important institutions and reference points for all Somalilanders. I hope it sets a benchmark in terms of when a country decides to do something for itself, for the greater good, for learning and for progress – that anything can be achieved.”

Now the first storey of the Somaliland National Library is largely complete. The next step is to fill it with books. The diaspora has been sending those, too.

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Some background is necessary here to explain the “country that doesn’t exist” part. During the Scramble for Africa of the 1880s, at the height of European imperialism, several different empires established protectorates in the Somali territories on the Horn of Africa. In 1883, the French took the port of Djibouti; the following year, the British grabbed the north coast, which looks out onto the Gulf of Aden. Five years after that, the Italians took the east coast, which faces the Indian Ocean.

And, excepting some uproar during World War II, so things remained for the next 70 years or so.

The Somali territories in 1890. Image: Ingoman/Wikimedia Commons.

When the winds of change arrived in 1960, the British and Italian portions agreed to unite as the Somali Republic: a hair-pin shaped territory, hugging the coast and surrounding Ethiopia on two sides. But British Somaliland gained its independence first: for just five days, at the end of June 1960, it was effectively an independent country. This will become important later.

(In case you are wondering what happened to the French bit, it voted to remain with France in a distinctly dodgy referendum. It later became independent as Djibouti in 1977.)

The new country, informally known as Somalia, had a difficult history: nine years of democracy ended in a coup, and were followed by the 22 year military dictatorship under the presidency of General Siad Barre. In 1991, under pressure from rebel groups including the Hargeisa-based Somali National Movement (SNM), Barre fled, and his government finally collapsed. So, in effect, did the country.

For one thing, it split in two, along the old colonial boundaries: the local authorities in the British portion, backed by the SNM, made a unilateral declaration of independence. In the formerly Italian south, though, things collapsed in a rather more literal sense: the territory centred on Mogadishu was devastated by the Somali civil war, which has killed around 500,000, displaced more than twice that, and is still officially going on.

Somalia (blue) and Somaliland (yellow) in 2016. Image: Nicolay Sidorov/Wikimedia Commons.

The north, meanwhile, got off relatively lightly: today it’s the democratic and moderately prosperous Republic of Somaliland. It claims to be the successor to the independent state of Somaliland, which existed for those five days in June 1960.

This hasn’t persuaded anybody, though, and today it’s the only de facto sovereign state that has never been recognised by a single UN member. Reading about it, one gets the distinct sense that this is because it’s basically doing okay, so its lack of diplomatic recognition has never risen up anyone’s priority list.

Neither has its library.

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Rageeh Omar described the site of the new library in his fundraising video. It occupies 6,000m2 in the middle of Hargeisa, two minutes from the city’s main hospital, 10 from the presidential palace. In one sequence he stands on the half-completed building’s roof and points out the neighbours: the city’s main high street, with the country’s largest shopping mall; the Ministry of Telecoms that lies right next door.

This spiel, in a video produced by the project’s promoters, suggests something about the new library: that part of its job is to be another in this list of landmarks, more evidence that Hargeisa, a city of 1.5m, should be recognised as the proper capital of a real country.

But it isn’t just that: the description of the library’s function, in the government’s Strategic Plan 2013-2023, makes clear it’s also meant to be a real educational facility. NGOS, the report notes, have focused their resources on primary schools first, secondary schools second and other educational facilities not at all. (This makes sense, given that they want most bang for their buck.)

And so, the new building will provide “the normal functions of public library, but also... additional services that are intentionally aimed at solving the unique education problems of a post conflict society”. It’ll provide books for a network of library trucks, providing “book services” to the regions outside Hargeisa, and a “book dispersal and exchange system”, to provide books for schools and other educational facilities. There’ll even be a “Camel Library Caravan that will specifically aim at accessing the nomadic pastoralists in remote areas”.

All this, it’s hoped, will raise literacy levels, in English as well as the local languages of Arabic and Somali, and so boost the economy too.

As described. Image courtesy of Nimko Ali.

Ahmed Elmi, the London-based Somali who’s founder and director of the library campaign, says that the Somaliland government has invested $192,000 in the library. A further $97,000 came from individual and business donors in both Hargeisa and in the disaspora. “We had higher ambitions,” Elmi tells me, “but we had to humble our approach, since the last three years the country has been suffering from a large drought.”

Now the scheme is moving to its second phase: books, computers and printers, plus landscaping the gardens. This will cost another $175,000. “We are also open to donations of books, furniture and technology,” Emli says. “Or even someone with technical expertise who can help up set-up the librarian system instead of a contemporary donation of a cash sum.” The Czech government, in fact, has helped with the latter: it’s not offered financial support, but has offered to spend four weeks training two librarians.  

Inside the library.

On internet forums frequented by the Somali diaspora, a number of people have left comments about the best way to do this. One said he’d “donated all my old science and maths schoolbooks last year”. And then there’s this:

“At least 16 thousand landers get back to home every year, if everyone bring one book our children will have plenty of books to read. But we should make sure to not bring useless books such celebrity biography books or romantic novels. the kids should have plenty of science,maths and vocational books.”

Which is good advice for all of us, really.


Perhaps the pithiest description of the project comes from its Facebook page: “Africa always suffers food shortage, diseases, civil wars, corruption etc. – but the Somaliland people need a modern library to build a better place for the generations to come.”

The building doesn’t look like much: a squat concrete block, one storey-high. But there’s something about the idea of a country coming together like this to build something that’s rather moving. Books are better than sovereignty anyway.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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