Thanks to “speed-flatmating”, finding a home in London will be more horribly reminiscent of dating than ever

Those were the days. Image: Getty.

If it costs you £800,000 to buy a 10ft wide property in East Dulwich, the chances of being able to afford anything like your own flat in London are so minuscule as to be irrelevant. (Unless you’ve got a lot of money, in which case, lucky you.) And when it costs upwards of £1,000 per month to rent a one bedroom flat in zone 3, the only reasonable option for most is to take a room within a flat-share.

The problem is that everyone else is in the same boat as you, so the competition is ferocious. And it'll still cost you on average a minimum of £600pcm to live in south east London, rising swiftly to a minimum of £800pcm anywhere else in zone 2.

What this means for you, the humble house-hunter, is that the stakes are both high and remarkably personal. While you're competing with hundreds just for the chance to get accepted for a viewing, your prospective new flatmates are looking for something with a bit more sparkle than a simple “hello”.

So when you join one of the wealth of flatmate finding websites  – RoomBuddies, Flatmate.com, SpareRoom – you compose a profile that not only explains what you're looking for, but what you like, what you do, your hopes and dreams. You can even add a photo.

It all feels a bit over-familiar – something that’s highlighted if you’re simultaneously using online dating sites like OKCupid. My potential new housemates, much like my potential lovers, apparently need witty paragraphs of pseudo-ad copy, photos of my pouting face and my vital statistics to get to know the real me. They need me to send an opening message that makes me stand out, and if I am lucky enough to get a shot at a viewing, this stranger is going to let me into their home, and maybe sit me down with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, but more than likely just show me round their room then chuck me out the door again. I will spend the next week wondering if I'll ever hear from them again, then chalk it up to experience and move onto the next one.


It's not difficult to see why people might think both dating and house-hunting have lost the soul that was previously at the crux of both processes. It's a lot less romantic to meet someone via a computer screen, just as it’s a lot more utilitarian to meet the person you're going to share a home with through a few message back-and-forths and a ten minute interview-style interaction.

But it seems that this is the future, rather than a temporary state. SpareRoom themselves have noticed the similarity between the two experiences, setting up regular “speed-flatmating” events across London. Now, you don't even have to compose your long-winded self-marketing campaign and send an awkward first message. Just as speed-dating has all of the crushing anxiety of going on multiple dates with none of the intimacy or the opportunity to take your time, speed-flatmating takes away the need to fire off countless, increasingly desperate messages to every room ad in sight, and replaces it with an even colder, even more hurried process.

Is it possible to impress someone enough to make them want to see you every day in five minutes or less? I'm not convinced it works for relationships either, but the continued existence of the process is some kind of evidence that it does.

Flat hunting in today’s London is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Just as my OKCupid inbox is full of strange men propositioning me in as crass a way as possible, so I received unsolicited messages on SpareRom from men in their forties offering me the illustrious opportunity to live in their home – maybe even share a bed! – for reduced rent, or even rent-free, if we “get on”.

And just as this is part and parcel of online dating now, I worry this too is what we must accept whilst house-hunting in 21st century London. It certainly won't be getting any cheaper or less competitive any time soon.

Tilly Grove tweets as @femmenistfatale.

 
 
 
 

Ottawa-Gatineau, the national capital which language differences nearly split into two countries

The Canadian parliament, Ottawa.

There are many single urban areas with multiple, competing local identities: from the rivalry of Newcastle and Sunderland in Tyne & Wear, to the Wolverhampton residents who resolutely deny that they are part of Birmingham, despite being in the same urban conurbation and sharing a mayor.

However, no division is quite as stark as that of the Ottawa-Gatineau metropolitan area in Canada. Often referred to as the National Capital Region, Ottawa and Gatineau lie directly opposite each other on either side of the Ottawa River, a hundred miles from Montreal, the nearest other significant population centre. Because the conurbation straddles a provincial boundary, the two cities literally speak a different language, with Ottawa in predominantly Anglophone Ontario and Gatineau in Francophone Quebec.

This is reflected in their populations. According to the 2011 census, French was the mother tongue of 77 per cent of those in Gatineau, a percentage maintained by policies intended to keep French as Quebec’s dominant language. Similarly, although Ottawa provides some bilingual services, 68 per cent of its residents are predominantly Anglophone; Franco-Ontarians frequently complain that the city is not officially bilingual.

Although there are similar divided cities, such as the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, Ottawa-Gatineau is unique in that the city was not divided by a war or major political event: its two halves have been part of the same political territory since the British defeated the French in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, before either of the cities were even established. Indeed, the oldest part of Gatineau is actually an Anglophone settlement with the name of Hull (it was merged into the Gatineau municipality in 2002).


Today, the two cities facing each other across the Ottawa river have separate services, and elect difference mayors to run them: OC Transpo serves Ottawa, the Société de Transport de l’Outaouais (STO) serves  Gatineau, and few tickets are transferrable between the two systems.

OC Transpo is currently constructing a light rail system to many parts of Ottawa; but proposals to expand the route into Gatineau, or to merge the two transport systems have been fraught with obstacles. The City of Ottawa owns a disused railway bridge, connecting the two cities, but arguments about funding and political differences have so far prevented it from being used as part of the light rail extension project.

The divisions between Ottawa and Gatineau are made all the more unusual by the fact that Ottawa is the federal capital of Canada – a country where bilingualism is entrenched in the Charter of Rights & Freedom as a bedrock principle of the Canadian constitution. As a result, while all proceedings within the Canadian legislature are bilingual, this principle of bilingualism is not reflected on the streets surrounding the building.

The inevitable map. Image: Google.

These linguistic, as well as political, differences have been a long-running theme in Canadian politics. Quebec held independence referendums in both 1980 and 1995; in the latter, the separatists were defeated by a margin of less than 0.6 per cent. Quebecois independence would be made all the more humiliating for Canada by the fact it would be losing the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, while its parliament was forced to look out across the river at its new neighbours.

While Quebec as a whole only narrowly rejected independence in 1995, 72 per cent of Gatineau residents voted against the separatist proposal. The presence of many federal employees living in the city, who commute to Ottawa, meant that the city was rather unenthusiastic about the prospect of independence.

So, with Quebec nationalism currently at a low ebb, Gatineau seems set to remain a part of Canada – albeit while retaining its independent from the other half of its conurbation, across the river. While recent challenges such as flooding may have been better tackled by a unitary authority, the National Capital Region seems set to remain a tale of two cities.

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