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.

 
 
 
 

“This is a civic pride for the digital age”: why we should why we should willingly let City Hall have our data

He was the future once: David Cameron discusses smart cities with Angela Merkel and a German technology executive. Image: Getty.

Victorian England. From the shadows of wealth grew poverty. Slums slumped against symbols of civic pride, cowering next to towering town halls funded through rich merchant princes, whose elitist rule was insufficient to deal with too many people in too few houses with too little infrastructure.

Enter municipality. With darkness came electric light; with disease came tunnels to disperse their cause; with time came reform, regulation and the rise of town planning.

It’s over a century since those places which first industrialised became those first urbanised; yet even the wealthiest cities in the world continue to struggle with the complexities of urbanisation. In London, ten thousand die each year from pollution; in New York, six times this amount reside in homeless shelters.On the rush-hour roads of Sydney, cars stand still, and in the ‘burbs or banlieues of Paris slums still stand.

An umbrella bought during a downpour costs more than one bough under blue sky – and the truth is that, for too, long city halls have failed to forecast and so incurred greater costs. It’s a reactive culture summed up by words first head in Jimmy Carter’s budget office: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Disease before sewer, gridlock before investment, collapse before rebuild – visible fix over unseen prevention

But with the world’s urban population growing by 65m every year, this has to change: there is not enough resource to manage cities reactively. Enter technology and the move to smart cities.

From Barcelona to New YorkOxford to Amsterdam, Singapore to Seoul: billions of low-cost devices are being installed into everyday objects to send and receive data: street lights recording pollution, and bridges reporting performance; traffic lights that count, and whose analysis will be counted upon, to ease traffic congestion; health wristbands understanding our heart’s needs, shop ceilings noting our heart’s desires. A web of information woven into the very fabric of cities which, when added to data from sources like mobile phones, is providing a living-breathing picture of how we and our cities operate.

This data is no longer retrospective or historic but live and dynamic. It is of such quantity, and can be analysed at such granular detail, that it can provide certainty where once there was only supposition. It is build-up before the gridlock, illness before epidemic; the crack of an ageing bridge, the first signs of smog. It is diagnostic to preventative. Umbrella under blue sky.

Those promoting the “internet of things”, estimated to be worth $11.1trn a year by 2025, will declare it a panacea – but it is not, at least not entirely. Sure, challenges regarding data quality, privacy, standardisation, and security will be overcome; 4G will become 5G will become 6G. Devices will communicate intelligently with each other – autonomous vehicle to autonomous vehicle, autonomous vehicle to bridge, drone to home. Data will become as fundamental to cities as infrastructure, and will be referred to as such.

Yet city halls in democracies, whilst infinitely better informed, will continue to make their decisions which are restricted by commercialism, framed by political ideology, and driven by short-term electoral or media pressures.


People first

From the mid-sixties to the start of this century a UK television programme called Tomorrow’s World showcased future living. For every correct prediction (mobile phones) came countless incorrect ones: the floating-bicycle, say, or paper underwear. My point is that only a small part of understanding the future of cities is about understanding technology. The majority is about understanding people and society, the people from whom the very word “city” is derived: civitas, the collective of citizens.

Gutenberg did not change the world by inventing the printing press in the 13th century – but he did enable the world to change. The technology was the printing press, the outputs were books filled with knowledge, the outcomes were the actions of the many who used that knowledge. Technology is a tool, a process towards an outcome. 

In much the same way, the Internet of Things will not change the world – but it will enable the world to change. Sensors are the technology, data the outputs, the analysis of this data and subsequent decisions, the outcome.

It is crucial to avoid the Tomorrow’s World approach. That is, racing to implement technology first without consideration of identified social, economic or environmental needs; introducing more complexity when most citizens seek simplicity. As the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs once said:“First comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out that image.”

Start with people. Form the image. Think of technology through the Greek origins of the word, techne and logos – a discourse about the way things are gained – and capitalise on collective intelligence to move towards that image.

Since cities first started to appear some millennia ago, they’ve provided incontrovertible evidence that the wisdom of crowds is far greater than the individual; that collective intelligence gained from that trinity of city institutions – citizen, government, industry – surpasses what can be achieved by any one in isolation. Where would Apple, Uber, or Google be without the government-backed inventions like the world-wide-web, touchscreen technology, WiFi or global positioning systems?

A new civic pride

Of course, an app on a smart phone that can ask a thousand questions is meaningless if nobody feels motivated to answer. Increasing urbanisation brings increasing interdependency: lives intrinsically linked, services shared. The challenge for city halls is to turn the increase in what people have in common, into an increase in common purpose, through understanding the three benefits that motivate and lead to action.

Extrinsic benefits, of status and reward, caused merchant princes to fund city halls in Victorian England: such benefits today see the ambitious putting in extra hours. Intrinsic benefits, like competitiveness or fun, that once caused business tycoons to compete to build the tallest skyscrapers, now explain why “hackathons” and “city challenges” are such a success. Then there are the pro-social benefits of altruism or benevolence, that cause millions to volunteer their time to give back and feel part of something bigger than themselves.

These motivations are of greater significance, because there are no longer people with clipboards standing on street corners asking permission to collate our views on services: it is happening automatically through the Internet of Things. Our choices online, movements offline; the travel we take, the pollution we make; our actions and interactions. We are data.

City halls can take a click-box-small-print approach to this, like so many apps. But there is opportunity to do the opposite. They can promote the fact that citizens can knowingly provide their data towards making lives better; visualise and enable citizens to see and understand their input, alongside data provided by others.

They can incentivise interaction with data, so that entrepreneurs can work back from outcomes, solve challenges, and re-localise where appropriate (we should not need a multinational to get a taxi). They can be proudly open, enabling citizens, industry and government to receive pro-social benefit by contributing to something bigger than themselves: their life and the lives of others.

This is a civic pride for the digital age. Not just localism or patriotism based on geography but the strength of connection between people and their ability to direct and determine change through data. Not just pride in the buildings and infrastructure that form our physical world, but in the quality of data that will shape our future world and move us from a diagnostic to preventative society – umbrellas under blue sky.

We should take pride in technology, yes; but that should come second to the pride in those who, enabled by that technology, drive progress. Who, through the wisdom of crowds, form an image of the future and strengthen democracy by motivating society to move towards it. Who embrace openness and help overcome the challenges of urbanisation.

Kevin Keith is a writer, researcher, urbanist, and director of the southern hemisphere’s largest open data competition, GovHack. He tweets as@KevKeith.

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