PHL Summary: Co-Living and The Common Good (1 of 2)

The Royal Society of Arts, with support from The Collective, recently published several essays from leading voices about the challenges and potential of co-living in the United Kingdom. Here are summaries of what was presented in Co-Living and the Common Good. (1 of 2)

Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash

Is co-living on the horizon?

By Matthew Taylor

The United Kingdom, just like many countries around the world, is suffering from an affordable-housing shortage. Co-living isn’t a “magic bullet” that addresses all of these challenges, but it offers some of the answers to the housing quandary British society faces.

The widespread affordability crisis is a major theme that’s tackled by this author. The shortage of social housing (government-subsidized housing), the decline in homeownership, and runaway increases in rent are causing societal-wide stress, especially for poorer segments of British consumers.

Limited housing stock also is pushing people into housing arrangements that they would “prefer to avoid.” Often times, reasonably priced housing is far away from people’s social circles, not within close proximity to job opportunities, and still requires a mountain of personal debt that takes a entire career to pay off.

Changing this reality requires a fundamentally different housing system, and co-living is an alternative that helps accommodate a wide demographic of consumers. Any housing system needs to reflect “the many different lives we might want to live are accommodated by many different types of homes that best reflect our needs and aspirations.”

Housing in an age of accelerations

By: Rohan Silva

As best-selling author Thomas Friedman has pointed out, we live in the “age of accelerations.” Still, we see residential property development is notoriously behind the times. Globalization is causing mass migration to industrialized countries, creating the need for new housing in places such as the United Kingdom.

In the interconnected and globalized world, the new economy, paradoxically, also is creating innovation hubs whereby geographical proximity matters more than ever. Innovation is now clustered in places such as Silicon Valley, and housing in those areas is extremely scarce and wildly expensive.

The author discusses several ways that today’s housing models are failing to keep up with a changing world. First and foremost, there isn’t enough new construction to accommodate a growing population and a growing economy, and the construction that is taking place is not in the areas where it is needed. Additionally, whether you’re a renter or a homeowner, housing finance models are stubbornly stuck in the past,

The author takes issue with British design and planning norms. Whether it’s the mainstream design models that separate people rather than bring them together, or architecture and planning that is painfully behind the times, or a bureaucracy that artificially inflates property values and stifles innovation, a great deal of reform is needed. That reform should start with the government by completely overhauling the current urban planning system in the United Kingdom.

From homes as commodities to living homes

By: Jess Steele

This piece critiques the commodification of housing as a financial instrument, and the damage that the trend has inflicted on the housing supply in the United Kingdom. This author uses her experience leading a Community Land Trust to offer prescriptions for the co-living movement.

Introducing the idea of a “living home,” we learn that that a home can be much more than a investment. Instead, it can be “a way of belonging and participating in a place.” This applies to co-living spaces as they have the opportunity to become “embedded within a wider civic and community infrastructure. This challenges the stereotype of many co-living communities as monolithic, insular communities that are detached from their surroundings.

Co-living communities, if they’re fully integrated with their surrounded neighborhoods, can play key roles in civic involvement and the improvement of these locales. The author disagrees with the notion that co-living communities are a niche housing model, pointing to the potential to “serve major policy goals.”

Co-living operators and developers in the sector are encouraged by the author to “strike a balance between commercial and social goals,” and she recommends the private sector explore “community-based governance models” for inspiration. In sum, for the co-living sector to succeed, they need to be a part of their communities.

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

The rise and fall (and rise?) of communal living

By: Nicholas Boys Smith

The author presents communal living as harkening back to our origins as a species, and subsequently declining in the industrial era. For most of recent memory, English urbanism has displayed a distinct preference for privacy. As people grow wealthier, they demand more space and, in effect, are more isolated from their fellow citizens.

Suburbs originally created a situation where citizens could simultaneously enjoy privacy and community. Now, suburbs and accompanying mass motorization have isolated large swaths of the population. Additionally, most industrial societies are seeing their populations rapidly age, making these low-density, car-dependent suburbs that are devoid of social interaction increasingly detached from most citizens’ daily needs.

Because of these changing realities, increasing urban density for both “sustainability and social capital” is now on the British government’s radar. Co-living is part of this solution, and help address the many housing issues the country faces, including walkable neighborhoods for senior populations.

Lastly, the author exhorts the co-living movement to define what co-housing means. Co-living can be inclusive or exclusive, tied to the surrounding community or a new type of gated neighborhood. While co-living has a lot of potential to solve our housing woes, advocates must continue to assess whether they’re part of community solutions or merely helping an exclusive club of people who call their space home.

This is one of two articles that summarizes Co-Living and The Common Good. For more information on PUREHOUSE LAB, a professional hub for the co-living community globally, visit