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Sharing Cities

to increase sustainability & livability

  • Writer's pictureClaire Flurin

Why Co-Living?

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

Most people I talk to find co-living either super weird or way too innovative. In my perspective co-living is first and foremost the formalization of a forgotten social habit. What's quite exciting, is its disruptive power in the traditional real estate world!


The non-profit think tank and network Co-Liv defines co-living as a form of managed habitation where people share spaces & resources to access a better quality of life. It takes many different forms but is always based on a set of shared spaces, with a built-in community and proper management resulting in a higher quality of life.

My purpose here is to help you understand why some of us have decided to live together and what opportunities it could open up.

Urbanization & affordability crisis

The World is urbanizing. According to the United Nations, 68% of our population will live in cities by 2050. Lagos expands on water to accommodate population growth, Tokyo's metropolitan area has reached 38 million people. Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Rio all face exponential growth.

The problem is that all those people coming into cities, moving between them and participating in the global economy have made cities…. really expensive! Everywhere, global cities face an unprecedented affordability crisis.

Harvard has recently shown that over 50% of American renters are cost-burdened renters - i.e. spending more than 30% of their income in their rent. My organization, Co-Liv, has found that the middle class is often left out: approximately 30% of Parisians / 35% of North Brooklynites don’t make enough to get a market-rate apartment but make too much to get access to affordable housing. So what do people do? They either move further away and contribute to urban sprawl; or, they find ways to make it work. They squeeze everything they would normally do in a homes in tiny spaces, and/or they share their apartments, with as many people as needed to make the rent affordable. Sharing seems to be the most common tactic to reduce rent: over 40% of Bulgarian renters share their homes; and 42% New-Yorkers lived with roommates in 2012.

Sadly, this market mismatch combined with a lack of clear zoning for shared homes fosters the growth of an informal market for illegally subdivided apartments, producing overcrowded, poorly maintained, undesirable homes. On the other hand, the same mismatch constitutes an opportunity for shared homes managers to address a population in need.

In short, people already share their homes, often informally, for economic reasons.

We need mobility!

We have just established that we, city dwellers, are packed in small spaces but that’s not even it.

Our lifestyles are evolving, and demand more flexibility. We marry later, separate, outlive our spouses, etc., resulting in a rising number of single-person households 🙇, i.e. people living alone. Gallup has found that 64% millennials lived alone in 2015 and Furman Center found that 71% of households in NYC are adult-only households. Technology has allowed our work to evolve too, and talent has become mobile. According to Deloitte (2013), millennial employees are opinionated and 90% of them want more flexibility in when and where they work. With 40% of the workforce gradually going freelance and/or part-time by 2020 (Intuit, 2010), businesses have had to adapt and will continue to be influenced by the rise of a more nomadic lifestyle.

In short, major geographic & personal transitions are becoming more frequent then ever. People need housing solutions that allow for those transitions.

We've never been so lonely...

In spite of the density of our cities and the hyper connectivity we know, technology and mobility have made us disconnected from our local communities. UCSF and JC Decaux report that 36% of French and 40% of Americans feel lonely; it’s twice as much as 30 years ago. Even more upsetting, 10% of British people reported to have no close friends - at all. In fact the United Kingdom now has a "Minister of Loneliness".

All this is important, because loneliness is a serious public health issue, as put it the Economist earlier this Fall. The United States have called it an epidemic, "likening its impact on health to obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes per day".

People need people. It might sound obvious, and: yet how well do you know your neighbors? or those folks from the store down the street?

New generations mean new preferences

As millennials steadily grow into becoming the largest generation in 2019 (Phew Research Center, 2018), it's important to highlight their preferences, as consumers of housing.

From the TV show New Girl

Next generations and the new middle-class chooses membership over ownership - even though it is unclear if the tendency is a true preference or simply results from the fact that they earn less than previous generations. According to Goldman Sachs, they value experiences over goods. And, "it’s not just homes: millennials have been reluctant to buy items such as cars, music and luxury goods. Instead, they’re turning to a new set of services that provide access to products without the burdens of ownership".

Since tech has allowed the “unbundling” of everything to better adjust to consumer needs, why wouldn't housing be eligible to the same treatment?

So: co-living?

Affordability, mobility, loneliness, evolving preferences seem to be the main drivers behind this behavioral shift.

After all, living around each other and relying on your immediate community is nothing new. My grand parents, their parents and generations before them used to live this way, and I bet yours too. May be you should try ;-)

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