Welcome back for the Series Finale that we’ve now split into two sub-parts since we have so much to cover. In the final two pieces of the series we’ll finally dive into where Coliving fits in with modern living trends: specifically, how Coliving can magnify the advantages of Network Communities and decrease the impact of the disadvantages.
A quick recap of what we’ve covered so far:
Part 1 covered Where We Live. We learned about the Big Sort and increasing urbanization. America’s metropolitan areas are growing and because it’s easier than ever for Americans to live where they want, they’re sorting themselves into homogenous communities.
Part 2 covered How We Live. We learned about the old American community called the Township and how it was built on a foundation of strong middle ring relationships. Over the past several decades many American communities have made the transformation to a new type of community called the Network that is based on strong inner and outer ring relationships.
Part 3 covered the Advantages and Disadvantages of living in Networks. In this piece we’ll examine the three main advantages:
As communication technologies continue to improve and the power of market segmentation creates even more homogenous groups, more and more cities will reap the above benefits of living in Network Communities. With all of this in mind, we can now examine where Coliving fits into larger communities and whether it can improve the way we live our lives.
Can Coliving magnify the advantages of Network Communities while decreasing the impact of the disadvantages? Should the ultimate goal of Coliving focus on the creation of more diverse living environments or providing community-driven, affordable housing for homogenous communities? I don’t think anybody has a concrete answer to these questions, but they are big picture issues the industry needs to seriously consider before scaling.
Let’s have a look at how Coliving can have a direct impact to magnify these advantages.
People living in modern Network Communities are more likely to be surrounded by people, places, and things that fit their tastes than ever before. In a lot of ways, this makes life easier and more comfortable.
Making life “easier and more comfortable” is one of the main value propositions for many Coliving operators; just look at some of the material found on Coliving websites:
We’ve established that many people today have more freedom than ever to craft the life they want and that’s exactly what Coliving companies are promising. Want to live with “people looking for an easier and sustainable life” or live in a community where you can “Design your best life”? Perfect – Coliving has the solution.
In addition to providing you with a like-minded community to make your life easier, many Coliving operators provide “all-inclusive” amenities and services to remove the small annoyances of everyday life as well. Weekly cleaning, free coffee/tea, laundry services, car rentals, and even dog walking can all be handled through your living environment.
With fully furnished rooms as well, many Coliving companies tell residents to “move in with just a suitcase.” I think we would be hard pressed to find many people that would argue that Coliving makes life more difficult for its residents.
For the Network advantage of Comfortable Living, Coliving without a doubt takes this benefit to the next level. However, making life easier for the individual does not necessarily lead to a stronger community. We’ll examine that issue when discussing disadvantages of the Network in Part 4b.
Social Movements will obviously continue to occur with or without the influence of Coliving. However, Coliving operators can facilitate the spread of social movements by choosing to directly support movements and by creating more Middle Ring relationships amongst its members.
When visiting Coliving locations across the US and Asia, it’s abundantly clear from walking in the door that operators support social movements in a variety of ways. Whether it’s on the events board in the lobby or the front page of their website, Coliving companies are finding a variety of ways to directly (or indirectly) support social movements.
A few examples:
In Part 2 of the series How We Live, we saw how America’s traditional community clubs such as Rotary and Elk’s Club have witnessed membership numbers sharply decrease over the past few decades. This decline is part of the reason why the average American today is less civically engaged than in the past as community clubs were how a lot of Americans participated in social movements.
In a lot of ways, Coliving operators are becoming a sort of ‘modern community club’ by achieving two of the exact same goals of the more traditional clubs:
Now that we’ve seen how Coliving operators are directly supporting social causes, lets take a look at how the communities they are creating can help social movements.
One of our key findings from discussed in Part 3 of the series was that social movements previously spread through Middle Ring connections while modern social movements spread through Outer Ring connections. Remember that the Civil Rights movement spread by word of mouth in tight-knit communities while the #MeToo movement spread through hashtags on social media.
Modern “hashtag” social movements that are spread through Outer Ring relationships can explode at an alarming rate (it took all of one week for the entire world to turn their back on plastic straws), but I would argue they are not as organic or permanent as social movements spread through the Middle and Inner Rings.
The entire idea of Coliving is to create a living community that boasts a higher number of Inner and Middle Ring relationships for its residents. So can Coliving help spread social movements more organically? Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario related to joining the #refusethestraw movement.
Scenario 1 – I open my Twitter account, see a post about the #refusethestraw movement, and proceed to “join” the movement by retweeting the message to my followers.
Scenario 2 – I’m at a weekly Coliving dinner where plastic straws were included in the catered dinner and one resident comments that nobody should use the straws. Another resident mentions that it’s not a big deal and then the 10-person table launches into a discussion around the topic.
Scenario 1 will spread the movement faster and reach hundreds of more people, but will it be more effective than Scenario 2? Would you be more likely to truly support a social movement and change your behavior due to reading 280 characters on your smartphone or having an in-person discussion with some of your closest friends? For me it’s the in-person conversation 99% of the time.
I use the example to show that social movements can more effectively affect change if they are spread through the Middle Rings rather than the Outer Rings. Of course you don’t have to be in a Coliving environment to have meaningful conversations with friends, but Coliving will increase the number of face-to-face interactions with friends and therefore, in theory, increase the number of meaningful conversations.
If Coliving can successfully create more Middle Ring relationships (which all operators claim to do), I believe Coliving can help social movements spread in a more meaningful way and actually affect behaviors.
Remember one of the applications of Mark Granovetter’s Strength of Weak Ties theory: our weakest relationships can lead to higher rates of innovation and superior economic outcomes. In the previous section we just covered how Coliving creates more Middle Ring relationships, so how will this affect one of the advantages of Network Communities based on a higher number of Outer Ring relationships?
In order to fully capture the Strength of Weak Ties advantage, Coliving companies must successfully integrate their internal community within the larger community in which they reside.
If Coliving communities are sealed off from their larger neighborhood, residents will invest most of their social capital in new Middle Ring relationships and will not reap the benefits of chance encounters with less familiar connections. The ultimate goal would be to have the best of both worlds: maintain strong Middle AND Outer Ring relationships. But how?
One Coliving operator I met at a Singapore Co-Liv Meetup had an interesting approach that is designed to maintain a close-knit internal community while simultaneously encouraging external community participation.
Sharies is a Coliving concept based in France that dedicates around 15% of its building space to be open to the larger community. In theory, this approach should ensure more interaction between Coliving residents and others in the community – which would be classified as ‘weak ties.’
I’ve seen many other Coliving operators with similar mixed-use building approaches such as Campfire in Hong Kong operating Coworking, Coliving, and a public café from the same building as well as nearly all of the Coliving/Coworking concepts in Bali such as Outpost, Bali Bustle, and Hustler’s Villa. Other strategies I’ve seen include hosting outside speakers or workshops, partnering with local businesses for member discounts, or “bring a friend” events.
Let’s also not forget that the Strength of Weak Ties advantage holds true not only at the macro level (cities with weaker ties are more innovative), but also has advantages at the individual level. For example, people are more likely to find jobs through their weakest ties and Coliving operators striving to create the best living experience possible will do well to provide their residents with this advantage.
So that’s how Coliving can help magnify the advantages of living in the modern Network Community. Coliving can make life easier for its residents, accelerate the organic spread of social movements, and help amplify the benefits of weak ties.
If that’s truly the case, it seems that Coliving is an excellent living solution for modern American communities. Before jumping to that conclusion, however, we should also examine the impact Coliving has on the Disadvantages of Network Communities.
Will the rise of Coliving perpetuate the problems of Network Communities by creating more homogenous and polarized groups? Will individuals in Coliving communities be better off at the cost of the larger communities in which they exist?
Spoiler alert: The answer to the above questions is a resounding “No,” but I believe they are extremely important for the industry to take into account. For an in depth discussion, stay tuned for Part 4b.
Part 1: Where We Live
Part 2: How We Live