No Man is an Island: International Co-living Initiatives

“No man is an island,” is a quotation from poet John Donne’s Devotions (1624): “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” While Donne unlikely expected this expression to apply to socio-economic crises in the 21st century, sharing resources are on rise. The current sharing economy ranges from rideshare initiatives such as Uber to civic crowdfunding platform Wayblaze and co-working spaces such as Impact Hub. The newest sharing concept comes as a response to the widespread affordable housing shortage – co-living.

Co-living is an innovative, cost-effective option for the increasingly high rents in metropolitan cities. The concept is meant to foster community through communal spaces through below-market rates. Residents live in self-sustained units with private living space and bathroom, but share such amenities as a kitchen, living area with entertainment units, and laundry facilities. Those who gravitate to the co-living environment tend do so out of a desire to build social bonds through sharing resources and communal activities.

According to Open Door, an organization that works to develop and enable co-living in the Bay Area of San Francisco, “co-living is a modern form of housing where residents share living space and a set of interests, values, and/or intentions.” Co-living can encompass many structural forms, including apartments, houses, and multi-story buildings, with residents connecting through shared living spaces and services.

Connecting through community is the pitch for The Collective’s Old Oak co-living building in London; small rooms and shared luxury services. Instead of self-contained flats, residents live in rooms with 12 square metres of floor space and share amenities including a gym, spa, libraries, restaurant and cinema for USD $1,033-$1,292/month, which is equivalent to approximately CAD $1,351-$1,694/month. Rent also includes all bills and wi-fi. Not only does this model promote affordable living, but it creates community – a value that underpins the sharing economy as much as economic viability does.

Here in Vancouver, building community is the focus for Tomo House, a multi-family development that 10 Vancouver families are working on. Designed around fostering connections and dubbed ‘co-living light,’ Tomo House is based on principles from Happy City’s Happy Homes toolkit, a how-to for designing multi-family housing that nurtures local social connections, fosters trust, and creates safe, shared spaces.

While Tomo House co-living is designed to support urban families, Mini Ocean Park Station by Synergy Biz Group Ltd in Hong Kong is designed for young professionals. Structured like a dormitory, this co-living and co-working building converted 18 former luxury apartments to 270 units with common areas for cooking and socializing. This style of living is ideal for young professionals working in the city who crave a sense of community.

Co-living isn’t just for millennials and could be a means to pied-à-terre (meaning “foot on the ground” in French), which are temporary second residences (not a vacation home) for occupants to live in part-time. While fully-furnished and month-to-month rooms for rent are perfect for young, single, and highly mobile working professionals, co-living also provides an opportunity to develop alternate housing models for senior citizens as well. By focusing on a sense of community through shared living space, co-living also provides a sense of physical and emotional safety and security.

With the market shift of skyrocketing housing prices and growing community isolation, the co-living trend is filling a gap in the housing market. Most co-living businesses are still in infancy: co-living properties are shifting from retrofitted houses to design-build condos and its impact on traditional housing is still to be seen. While some predict that single-family homeownership in Vancouver will be a thing of the past, the biggest impact co-living makes on the housing market may not be made of bricks and mortar– instead, it may be on the social cohesion of society. The long terms success of co-living may be in the ability to create a community out of strangers who share experiences… and a kitchen.