5 What does it mean to live in community?

Building a strong community experience in co-living spaces

The ‘co’ in co-living can mean many things to a co-living operator and its residents: it can range from a type of corporate, commercial and convenient co-living offer to a more collective, (e)cological and community focused experience. There is a difficulty within the sector of understanding whether or not individuals are opting into the co-living experience for the convenience rather than the community, however, many individuals do come for both. Ryan Fix, Co-founder of PUREHOUSE LAB and its Community Research Forum Coordinator uses the metaphor of martial arts practices to explain this dichotomy:

“Like the metaphor of chi gong and other martial arts practices that use the opponent’s energy against themselves, co-living attracts customers which desire more convenient lifestyles and yet once they engage with the experience, they become active participants in the community. They transform from customers who consume to members that contribute. The magic is in the design”.

Building a strong community in a co-living space is no easy task, and it depends on various aspects, including many of the communication skills, design implementations and onboarding and curation techniques we refer to in this publication. Having a strong community in a shared living space means having residents that are engaged in communal activities and responsibilities, are empowered through leadership skills and participatory processes, and feel an increase in overall well-being and confidence in their everyday lives. As a previous co-living operator of Pure House in Brooklyn, New York, Fix describes what it is like when he has seen co-livers thriving and feeling well:

“Co-living offers an exciting opportunity to empower individuals to live to their full potential. To do so, well-being must be embedded into the core offering and design of the communal experience. Being well is about being connected to oneself and thus, intuitively knowing what we need to feel well. When we are connected, our intuition drives our actions toward being well”.

In order to achieve this well-being and engagement among residents, operators must implement experience design, shared values, rituals, events and curation techniques into all phases of the co-living experience (from onboarding to communal events to maintenance responsibilities). Creating a safe space for people to be themselves through weekly rituals such as circling sharing processes is also a critical ingredient in fostering a nurturing community. It is important to have consistency for these rituals and events, whether they are weekly or monthly events, or even events that align with seasonal celebrations (which can also be a strategy for organizing rituals and events open to the public to join as well).

Simple rituals such as weekly games nights help to build a strong community experience (Source: Wired)

The organization of these rituals and events should be done through participatory processes, making the experience of living in community intentionally designed to foster authentic leadership qualities such as authenticity, compassion and integrity. As noted, there are strong leadership and empowerment opportunities in co-living, and shared living spaces can be a driver for teaching people how to become community leaders and giving them the confidence to design participatory processes that have a positive social impact within their communities and outwards.

 

Co-living spaces as local neighborhood hubs

Neighborhood hubs are “gathering places where community members can build relationships, strengthen their community, work collectively towards a more sustainable way of living” and “intentionally bring people together to carry out services, activities, programs and events that serve the local community”.  Co-living spaces have a huge potential to become local neighborhood hubs and many spaces already implement measures in order to do so with their own residents and local partnerships with community organizations for their surroundings. For example, OpenDoor’s Euclid Manor space in Oakland, California places a strong emphasis on being a local actor for positive change: “The theme of Euclid Manor is transformation and social impact. Residents are passionate about creative positive change – in themselves, in the community and in the world – and realize this through a slew of resident-led creative projects and social ventures’. OpenDoor’s Euclid Manor space is not the only community of co-livers to have this emphasis on local change and social impacts, and Fix discusses the benefits of these positive actions:

“Co-living spaces are not islands, but rather resource-rich communities of talented individuals that desire to foster a positive impact in the world. This starts with their local communities, which also have resources to be shared and needs to be met. When co-living spaces are designed with processes that foster collaboration within the community around them, everyone wins”.

Another example of this is Happy Bern Lab in Switzerland, which has occupied a house for one year prior to demolition with a group of unique individuals who desire to foster a positive relational dynamic with their neighbors. Happy Bern Lab “gives space to local heroes to transform their neighborhood, gives space to social change-makers to take a break and experience the beauty of abundance (without having to pay for food and rent), gives space to let deep, transformative conversations emerge and to re-discover human collaborations”. As they approach the end of their occupancy, they are now in discussions with the mayor of Bern and other cities in Switzerland to replicate this model to occupy transitional properties to foster more positive civic engagement and participation within local neighborhoods and with thought leaders from around Western Europe and the world.

Co-living spaces are full of social, cultural and human capital that can be shared with local communities to become actors of change within their neighborhoods. The sharing of these resources, talents and ideas with community groups and residents from their surroundings (and vice versa) means that co-living spaces can build strong ties within and outside of their buildings in order to become strong participants of social sustainability in their cities.

The Benefits of Great Places Diagram (Source: Project for Public Spaces)

Collectively building a strong community should be placed at the forefront of the values for co-living operators and the residents within their spaces, otherwise co-living just falls under the category of another serviced apartment residential complex in the real estate sector. Although co-living can be considered as an entrepreneurial approach to providing ‘community as a service’ to those who can afford it, there are also examples of co-liver testimonials that describe a strong sense of connection with other residents and their local communities, opening up individuals to new possibilities and opportunities for a journey of personal transformation they may not have known existed previously. If building communities means helping people realize their authentic selves and full potential than co-living spaces can become hubs of growth, leadership and awareness for the individuals that engage themselves in these communities. As noted in the beginning of this section, it is up to co-living operators to decide where they would like to sit in the ‘co-spectrum’, and whether or not building strong community experience is one of the leading values of their organizations.

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