The community as a commodity

In a world of cool co-working spaces, it was just a matter of time before moving onto co-living.

These fully furnished complexes of apartments and rooms aiming at building a stronger sense of community might be just the perfect accommodation of the near future, providing tenants with facilities ranging from a cinema room to a gym, alongside multiple networking occasions. But what happened to that cliché about Londoners wanting to live in isolation and avoid human contact as much as possible?

Source: WHub

It turned out that the epidemic of loneliness in the UK, an issue of such magnitude even Prime Minister Theresa May addressed it recently, affects young people as well as seniors. That is not news. Back in 2010, a report by the Mental Health Foundation found out nearly 60% of people aged 18 to 34 claimed they felt lonely more often than not.

So is co-living the ideal solution for them? “Providing facilities and a ready-made community is in a sense a living experience package that will appeal to some people,” says London- based landlord and property expert Richard Blanco. 

“ Marketeers will argue that millennials are focused on experiences rather than things , so this co-living model fits into that. Some argue that the screen – based lifestyles of millennials makes them more prone to loneliness and so providing social opportunities on their doorstep goes with the zeitgeist. ”

Property developer, The Collective has brought this community-driven approach to north-west London. Old Oak, a 551-room tower block, is the first and only co-living experiment in the capital. Who wouldn’t want to stop worrying about bad landlords and roommates? Not to mention the hassle of calculating bills. Co-living takes care of everything, offering different solutions, common areas and nice neighbours “on a similar journey”. All you need to do is choose a room according to your needs (ensuite rooms, shared ensuites and studios) and play by the co-living rules.

It will feel as if you’ve never left the university dorms, with its pros and cons. All-inclusive bills and regular cleaning, in fact, come at a cost higher than the average £250 per week. No pets allowed, no free laundry facility, no parking space, no hammering into the wall. A lot of noes for something aiming at being inclusive and open. And far too many noes for it to feel like home, at least permanently.

“All inclusive rents mean that tenants can’t shop around for cheaper energy suppliers or choose to opt in or out of facilities and the overall hotel-esque product can feel quite expensive ,”

Moreover, there is a vague reference to the chance of hosting private events limited to “other people in the buildings”. The risk of co-living is that the strong sense of community it prides itself on might turn into a different form of secludedness, relying exclusively upon proximity to create social relationships. As a consequence of focusing too much on what’s within its walls, this enclave might end up excluding what’s (and who’s) outside of it. Besides, the artificial community that such co-living experiments ​want to build is marketed as a real commodity, somehow losing its genuineness along the way.

Despite being controversial and perfectible, some believe that co-living might be a possible way to redefine affordable, short-term housing while trying to fight the loneliness of living in a big city.
However, Blanco disagrees.  “Co-living is not cheap so it is not going to solve affordability issues of the housing crisis, but the household formation is on the increase as so many more people live on their own, so the co-living model is beneficial in the sense that it is providing more units.” This way, you can still avoid making eye contact with your fellow passengers on the tube and save all your socialisation efforts for when you get home.

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