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Family/Europe

"It's living in a group of like-minded people". Svetlana Kolchik talks about the new European trend for colivings

04.05.2023

"We're all really happy here," says an elderly Danish woman named Merete. - I couldn't live anywhere else.

I want to believe her. We sit sipping lime at a wooden table in a clean kitchen with a large window without curtains. Merete has a bright two-storey flat in a beet-coloured wooden house.

"I fell in love with this colour straight away," smiles my new acquaintance as she cuts a plum cake.

I learned about this idyllic place in the Danish countryside years ago in a documentary called Happy. It was about unique places on the planet, like the Japanese island of Okinawa, where the happiest people live. Among them was Tingarden, a coliving space in the outskirts of Copenhagen.


Tingarden
Photo: vandkunsten.com

The houses here are built in the manner of townhouses. The front doors adjoin those of the neighbours and the windows face each other.

Here, everyone has their own flat, but they share a vegetable garden (each family has its own bed) and "communal houses" with shared washing machines and freezers, and a large kitchen with a dining room where they have dinner together once a week.

Important issues are decided at joint meetings. They have five board members and elect a chairperson every two years. Each flat has two votes. Those who disagree collect signatures and the dispute is re-discussed.

Tingarden, a 1970s project by Vandkunsten, an architectural firm known throughout Scandinavia for its innovative ideas in low-cost environmentally friendly housing, is one of the first modern European coliving spaces (the term comes from communal or collaborative living - also called co-housing projects). In the 21st century, interest in such communities has skyrocketed - all around the world.


Photo: domos.us

At the beginning of the century, in the wake of the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley, young internet entrepreneurs started organising coliving  - it is much cheaper to rent good houses together. A decade later, an additional incentive was the pandemic, when people experienced the hardships of isolation.

From London and Hong Kong to Barcelona and Sydney, co-housing projects are now being built in many cities; the market in this segment is growing at 30 percent a year.

These can be hotel-like residences with communal lounges, co-working spaces, fitness clubs, spas and restaurants aimed primarily at yuppies with good incomes, or small condominiums for the family and the elderly . The latter tend to have common spaces, too. For example, a garden where neighbours take turns working; a canteen, playrooms or kids' club; a tool shed; a laundry room; a meeting and party hall; and sports pitches.

Some co-housing projects - the Flatmates project in Paris, for example - are aimed at young entrepreneurs and freelancers: in addition to individual flats, rooms in apartments can also be rented at a reasonable price.


Shared lounge, Flatmates
Photo: stationf.co

The coliving spaces are similar to the campuses of scientists in Silicon Valley: the building is divided into three parts with 100 apartments, cafés, co-working spaces, a lounge bar and an event hall.

The main difference between a coliving space and a dormitory is the absence of outsiders.

For example, at Nest Coliving in downtown Copenhagen, which has been in existence since 2014, all applicants are screened as if they were hired by a corporation. The coliving consists of four flats with 5-6 bedrooms, two toilets and spacious, well-equipped kitchens.


Photo: nestcopenhagen.dk

Only 21 people can live in Nest at a time. The residents are ambitious young entrepreneurs aged 22-35 from different parts of the world. Most are single, by the way: you can't live here with a significant other. Each tenant is given a key to all flats, and on Sundays Nest residents bake bread and then have dinner together.

The founders of the project describe themselves as follows: "Nest is one of the first co-housing developments in the Danish capital, started from the ground up as a non-profit organisation. We do not serve large corporate interests. Instead, we genuinely want to be part of each other's lives. We take care of each other and build lifelong friendships."

Those who choose this way of life can usually afford to rent separate accommodation. But it is possible that  living in a group of like-minded people meets the most important needs of a modern person - especially against the background of the mass transition to remote working: the need for live communication, networking and optimisation of everyday issues.

For the older generation, coliving spaces are a chance to escape the loneliness of old age, and for families, it saves the time and other resources that are needed to raise children, while also creating and strengthening quality social ties.

Entrepatios, a condominium that opened a few years ago in the centre of Madrid, is mainly inhabited by young families with young children. Each family has its own flat, but the doors open onto a common space, la corrala, a kind of patio courtyard in old Spanish villas, where generations of relatives used to live.

One bonus is that you don't have to spend money on babysitters, as there is always someone on hand.

When the pandemic caused a lockdown in Spain and all childcare facilities were closed, the children in Entrepatios were kept busy. Parents worked together to organise yoga, English lessons, drama classes and other developmental activities. When the beauty parlours closed, a professional hairdresser and an excellent masseur were found among the neighbours. Every Friday the residents of the coliving - now 16 families live there - get together on the terrace for sangria and live music.

"We take turns helping each other," says psychologist Cynthia, who moved here at the end of 2020 with her husband and two young children. - One of the families can take in six other people's children for the evening so that the other parents can go out. We hardly ever buy children's clothes either - our neighbours give us everything. Before moving here we had to arrange meetings and children's activities in advance, we had to travel to the other end of the city to visit, but here everything is easy and spontaneous. When you have a family and children, it's much easier to live in a co-housing project."


Shared corridor, Entrepatios
Photo:
entrepatios.org

Sociologists see the growing popularity of coliving in different guises as the possible birth of a new family type - the so-called tandem tribes.

Marketers at the international creative agency Dragon Rouge predict that by 2030, "tandem micro-communities" will become one of the most common family types - especially in megacities.

Perhaps even sooner - life is accelerating and becoming more expensive. At the same time, the sharing economy - the economy of shared and conscious consumption - is gaining momentum. More and more people are moving to a remote or hybrid format. Life and work are merging, and in order to maintain at least the minimum balance, personal time and space have to be optimised as much as possible.

Many become digitally nomadic and change countries every few years or even months. As moving is compared to divorce in terms of stress levels, having a loyal community in these circumstances is an invaluable support. It is possible that in the near future, the classic family and relatives will be successfully replaced by like-minded neighbours.

Svetlana Kolchik's book "The New Family '' about family and community setups in Russia and Europe will be published by Alpina Publisher later this year.


By: Svetlana Kolchik

Cover Photo: Getty