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.

 
 
 
 

The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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