Co-Housing and the Rise of Collaborative Consumption

I recently read a book entitled ‘What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption’. Authored by Rachael Botsman and Roo Rodgers (founders of, the book references many benefits connected to “collaborative consumptions,” including the familiar formations of car-sharing, co-working and crowd sourcing.

What is collaborative consumption?

Botsman and Rodgers describe collaborate consumption as a model for allowing people to share resources without giving up formations of personal freedom or generating lifestyle limitations.

Collaborative consumption is an emerging socio-economic tendency driven by the desire for simplicity, participation and transparency. Recent manifestations have come about by the demand for new modern but socially connected lifestyle preferences.

What is driving collaborative consumption?

Facilitating new means of collaborative consumption is the internet, making it easier to connect and share with other likeminded individuals. The internet is also changing the way we view old stigmas associated with shared, collective or collaborative living.

Recent technology driven collaborative consumptions are facilitating new opportunities for personal freedom while refreshing old concepts and reinventing new and valuable forms of social connection and community contribution. At the centre of recent collaborative consumptions are collective:

  1. Desires to live a less cluttered lifestyle.
  2. Access to technology and the internet.
  3. Merging of social networks.
  4. Resurgences in the importance of the community.
  5. Values on the importance of time.
  6. Concerns and considerations for sustainability.
  7. Desires to save money and be economically more efficient.

Collaborative consumption has recently become a powerful concept validated by the mainstream recognition of money, space and time as valuable resources.

Collaborative consumption seeks to look beyond the values of the 20th Century that are dubbed by Adam Curtis as the ‘selfish century,’ representing a time of unnecessary hyper-consumption. Collaborative consumption disposes top-heavy and centralised forms of consumerism in favour of sharing, aggregation, transparency and cooperation.

Can collaborative consumption lead to more sustainable housing developments?

For many years I have been participating in the benefits of car-sharing, co-working and crowdsourcing. More recently however, I have been thinking about the translation of collaborative consumption into architecture.

The concept of co-housing is not a recent phenomena but apart from affordability what are the motivations and drivers for communal housing or collective property co-ownership?

Co-housing originated in the 60’s, principally in Denmark before expanding to Northern Europe and US. Today, the demand for co-housing is driven by mainstream concerns of sustainability. The “one planet living” concept of co-housing advocates eco-villages and forms of collaborative consumption that focus on sustainability and urban renewal.

Danish-style co-housing projects as the Beddington Zero Energy Development in London are on the rise in Melbourne, recent projects include the Westwyck in Brunswick West or the Commons in Brunswick. Whether co-housing becomes more mainstream will rely on our willingness to genuinely and holistically embrace more collaborative lifestyles.

Image-01Beddington Zero Energy Development in London.

Image-02TheWestwyck in Brunswick West.

Image-03 The Commons in Brunswick.

A collaborative lifestyle is where likeminded people cluster together in order to share and exchange assets such as physical recourses, time, money, space and skillsets. A collaborative lifestyle seeks to deflate the “isolated consumer society” that has been hypothesised by some as the instigator for the 2008 global financial crisis.

The most common barrier relating to the mainstream uptake of co-housing is the social stigmas associated with sharing. Stephanie Smith is a designer and developer who instigated a social design project, cultivating ‘Cul-de-Sac Communes‘ within Southern California and beyond. You can listen to the social experiment on NPR here. In 2008, the Whitney Museum identified Smith as actively taking the ideas of Buckminster Fuller into the 21st century.

‘Cul-de-Sac Commune’ initiative seeks to turn the concept of the commune on it head – the project is not about packing up and starting anew, its about reaching out to those around you. She started the experimentation in Topanga Canyon and very quickly the community acknowledged the benefits associated with living a more collaborative lifestyle. Together they came up with collaborative ideas and advocated the desire to be an active contributor in the community.

The biggest challenge Smith discovered was coordination and the perceived effort associated with collaborative living. It was evident that the perceived effort by the community was negating the perceived return on effort and overcoming this was a legitimate challenge towards achieving a collaborative lifestyle.

The last few years has seen the emergence of new social sites trying to resolve this issue of coordination. Websites including NeighborGoods allow people to save money and resources by sharing with their neighbours. Technology is helping to enable collaborative communities but ultimately it is attitude and shifting perspectives that will drive the growth of co-housing.

What does it take to implement co-housing?

Tim Riley, co-founder of Property Collectives recently instigated two collaborative co-housing experiments.

A few years ago Riley bought a weekend property with his friend – together they share the upsides (time away, bushwalking, growing and eating food from the property) and the downsides (mortgage repayments, maintenance and weeding). The property investment was made possible because he shared the investment (upsides and downsides) rather than taking it on solo.

In 2010, Riley teamed up with three friends in order to undertake a property development project in Melbourne. Together they built 4 townhouses, sharing 25% of the cost each. Upon completing the project they moved in alongside each other. Since then, they have been living together and sharing duties including, cooking, baby sitting and gardening.

Image-04Townhouse Property Development in Melbourne.

Each experiment required a comprise but both ventures are successful because everyone shares a balanced attitude relating to concepts of home and utility ownership.

Environmentalist and Author, Bill McKibben asserts that all we need in order to participate in co-housing is to re-orientate our personal compass. At the centre of emerging collaborative consumptions is the understanding that we are possibly not as ‘individual’ as we might like to consider. Once we find our anchor of commonality it can give rise to rewarding situations of co-housing.

The benefits of co-housing are the establishment of new social bonds, building of social capital, break down of emotional barriers and collective wealth.


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