The PUREHOUSE LAB, a Networked Community

The PUREHOUSE LAB is focused on facilitating the creation and expansion of co-living spaces. We are research-based but also facilitate the development of prototyping spaces by linking pertinent actors with one another in order to localize these projects with professionals that know their communities well. In the end of it all, we are building the foundations for a collaborative platform that will connect individuals who are dedicated to creating community-oriented shared spaces.

As we are launching this organization and assembling our members, we take care in the type of vocabulary we use to communicate our project to others. Are we a network of individuals striving for sustainable and collectively shared spaces? Or are we a community of individuals seeking to do the same thing? Is there a difference? Does it really matter?

We think that it does, and our consensus is that we are becoming a community of individuals that provides one another the information and opportunities needed for each of us to succeed. But to really understand this distinction, the term community needs to be defined. For the PUREHOUSE LAB, community and network does not mean the same thing, and there are vital differences.

A few searches of the term “community” on media platforms like the New York Times or The Atlantic leads to some interesting debates on these same questions. In Draining the Life from Community, Anand Giridharadas emphasizes the different sorts of community that exist nowadays: business communities, international communities, European communities, intelligence communities, scientific communities, and the list goes on. He goes on to say that “place and shared experiences have fallen away from the modern understanding of community” and that these sorts of communities are “people with common interests and not common values”. For example, last week mainstream American media platforms dedicated a large amount of airtime on American and Russian intelligence communities, two ‘communities’ that historically have common interests in devalorizing each other for political and technological motives.

In the Harvard Business Review, Henry Mintzberg makes a thought-provoking distinction between networks and communities saying that “if you want to understand the difference between a network and a community, ask your Facebook friends to help paint your house… Networks connect; communities care”. In Community in the Digital Age, Ronald Brownstein analyzes a Heartland Monitor Poll from 2015 that explores Americans’ attitudes about how these networks affect community. Although most Americans have positive opinions on contemporary digital social networks, “39 percent agreed with the more negative assessment that the changes are diminishing “Americans’ quality of life by isolating people from their neighbors and local businesses, and by weakening the sense of community in our neighborhoods””.

So has the rise of digital networks reduced our personal connections with those people living closest to us? Not quite. Examples of communities that still contain an aspect of proximity and temporality still exist, and efforts to perpetuate these connections are facilitated by digital tools such as civic crowdfunding sites like Ioby (In Our Backyard), that allow locals to raise funds for neighborhood projects such as community gardens and quirky public spaces. One can take a look at a post-disaster city like Christchurch, New Zealand to see inspiring examples of community resilience and local citizens pulling together resources and time to recreate the physical, social and cultural identities of their neighborhoods and central cities. The rise of third spaces and renovated industrial spaces has led to temporary and / or permanent mix-used community spaces that contain offices, retail, events and housing alike (i.e. Les Grands Voisins in Paris). Individuals struggling to survive in refugee camps like The Calais Jungle in Northern France (which has been relocalized several times) mutualize everything they have got to provide each other basic services and amenities.

These models each contain different levels of proximity and temporality, which tend to differentiate from traditional forms of community that are based on longer-term contact and close proximity. Similarly, alternative models such as co-working and co-living exist, where professionals mutualize space and resources to easily collaborate and develop innovations. The temporal aspect of these spaces may be shorter than traditional communities, however, the proximity and connections are very present.

For the PUREHOUSE LAB — and according to Ryan Fix’s (co-founder of PUREHOUSE LAB and founder of Pure House co-living spaces in Williamsburg, New York) experience with catalyzing communities — community is something that is amorphous, and does not have any defined boundaries. A true community is built from the ground up and cannot be managed; the circumstances for community to emerge can be designed and curated, but it is based on uncontrolled spontaneous rituals and values of local peoples.

Compared to a network, a community is based on the benefit of others, rather than the benefit of self; communities tend to be more outwardly focused, while networks tend to consist of inwardly-focused individuals that use these networks to expand their personal initiatives. While arguments can be made that structures and individuals involved in the collaborative economy are contributing to networks and not communities, elements of proximity and temporality that are found in communities can also be found in these alternative sectors.

The PUREHOUSE LAB aims to keep the community aspects strong and present in these alternative sectors and spaces, by using network-like platforms to link local communities with local opportunities. The PUREHOUSE LAB is made up of a collective of international professionals who are experts in their local environments. We don’t pretend to know the correct models of co-living spaces in each city, and that is why it is our community of experts who create these shared spaces according to their local resources and knowledge. In a world where community is a buzzword and seldom a reality, the PUREHOUSE LAB is dedicated to bringing this term back onto the ground and into the actual hands of curious and inspired individuals.

©Matt Lesniak & the PUREHOUSE LAB Team

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