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.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.