There appears to be a new craze of sticking the prefix ‘co-’ in front of just about everything: co-living, co-working, co-creating etc. What’s this all about? Is this the 2010s version of the early naughties iTrend?
Having worked at The Collective for the past few months, the term co-living has become part of my everyday lingo, but it’s still hard to capture, for the uninitiated, exactly what the concept means.
Thing is, there’s no set definition of co-living, or what a co-living community should look like. Fundamentally, what unites any co-living project is a desire to live in a more connected way with the people around you. It’s the pursuit of a way of living focused on creating a genuine sense of community; it’s about sharing a home, communal spaces, and daily activities. Pretty much everything else is open to interpretation.
Co-living might look like an ordinary house share, where the occupants have made a conscious decision to live in a more collaborative way, sharing meals and activities. Or it might look like The Collective Old Oak, the world’s largest co-living community of over 500 people. At Old Oak, members have their own private studio apartments, but also have access to numerous shared spaces and daily community events.
Reinventing The Wheel?
So it’s effectively ‘co-existing’, or living with roommates. Why is it being talked about as new concept, or as a concept at all?
This is a tricky one. Absolutely, there’s nothing new about the idea of humans living together in a community; we’ve historically always tended to live in tribes. It’s scientifically proven to be good for our health to live more socially as part of a community, and vice versa. However, somewhere along the line, society became a lot more fragmented, and the idea of community drifted further and further away from the way we actually live.
By 2016, we’ve found ourselves in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, one that is affecting young people (ages 18-34) the most. London has been hailed the loneliest city in the UK and in Europe, with 52% of Londoners feeling lonely. Part of the problem, no doubt, is the isolated way in which we live. Only half of surveyed Brits claim to feel close to people in their neighbourhood; 1 in 10 young professionals have never even spoken to their neighbours.
Co-living has emerged as a concept in no small part as a backlash against the disconnected nature of modern living, paradoxical in our hyper-connected digital age. Living in a connected, collaborative community may not be new to the human race, but it’s a relatively novel paradigm right here, right now.
Making Time For Connection
Part of the power of co-living comes from the way it integrates community and connectedness into everyday living – into the home space. This is probably more significant than it immediately sounds, given that we are living in an era of what has been dubbed ‘time poverty’. Indeed, British employees work the longest hours in Europe – more and more of us are becoming part of ‘Burnout Britain’, working in excess of 48 hours a week. Time poverty and poor work-life balance are not only causes of social isolation and loneliness in the first place, but also prevent us from taking steps to join communities and feel more connected. It’s a vicious cycle.
Co-living means you can be part of a community everyday – even if it’s a simple as having someone to have a chat with when you come home. You don’t have to worry about making time to find and test out new social groups or activities, or to travel there and back. No one really talks about how hard it is to make new friends as an adult, but it is – especially after university. Being part of a co-living community is an easy way to meet new people and forge ongoing relationships.
In the few months that Old Oak has been open, the community has flourished. Yes, there are the daily community events put on for members (from yoga classes to live music, film nights to speaker series), but what has been most exciting is the way the community has developed itself, outside of the efforts of the community managers. A quick glance at the community Facebook group shows countless examples of members coming together to create new clubs, outings or community initiatives; every day someone reaches out to the community for help or advice about something, and with over 500 people there’s someone who can help with just about anything.
Is it right to look at co-living as reinventing the wheel, as redundantly conceptualising something that has always existed? Is it more appropriate to look at is a game-changing paradigm? The truth probably lies somewhere in between – in a world where we’ve become disconnected, lonely and too busy to form new relationships, co-living emerges as a exciting way of living to take us back to our roots.
Written by Grace Waters