Co-living: a lifestyle choice that reflects a generation redefining the idea of community
It’s not uncommon for entertainment to depict an emerging trend before it becomes mainstream in society. Philosophical musings aside, about whether art imitates life or vice versa, American television shows like ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Friends’ seem to have anticipated a rise in singles associating with their friends as a community and surrogate family, several years ago. Recent decades have witnessed successive iterations of change when it comes to how each generation is choosing to live and associate among themselves. In a little over half a century, the normative joint family first branched off into the nuclear. It then became far more accepting of the very definition of the term ‘family’, and finally appears to be redefining the very basis on which people come together as a collective. We live in a connected world, in which it has already become commonplace for close friendships and relationships to form across vast physical distances with the aid of social media. With people increasingly preferring to create social groups based on choices, opinions and taste, choosing co-living, as a housing and socialising option, should come as no surprise.
A 2012 Pew Research report found that 20% of the American population older than 25 years had always been single, compared to 9% in 1960(1). A subsequent report, from the same source, in 2018 recorded a further reinforcement of the trend along with the fact those individuals who were getting married, did so at a later age(2). And this is not a pattern that was confined to the US alone. Euromonitor has reported a rise in the number of adults who choose to live alone worldwide, with the trend becoming statistically significant about a decade ago(3). While traditional archetypes have not been entirely abandoned, people are departing from them, and prioritising their personal journeys in increasing numbers. And the social stigma around doing so has dissipated considerably. In such a social scenario, co-living is emerging as the natural alternative to traditional housing, especially in the context of other concurrent trends such as the sharing economy and a far less confined spectrum of life goals.
Gemini Property Developers CEO Sunil Gomes believes that with millennials choosing to delay committing to families, the increasing number of freelance ‘digital nomads’ in the workforce, and a marked decrease in social pressure to conform, a more substantial portion of the population will choose the financial and personal freedom that co-living offers. Sunil notes that the alternatives to the traditional models of a community are taking form at an accelerating pace. Sunil expects that more individuals will choose to share communal living areas and facilities while retaining a smaller private space in which to retire as a bedroom or personal area.
Dialling the perfect balance between community and privacy
Humans are social animals, and while priorities and lifestyle choices may change rapidly, certain fundamental needs for association and relationships are, of course, strong as ever. Co-living is not about living ‘alone’ per se. It is a reflection of individual expression breaking free from the limitation of being a statistic and a cliché. In this context, co-living is a redefinition of the concept of what a home represents. As several commentators on the trend have pointed out, living communally as a tribe is an ancient custom that is even more ‘natural’ than many of the social structures and institutions we tend to think of as ‘traditional’. The ability to improvise when presented with opportunities, and be flexible enough to indulge evolving priorities, is a key aspect of the ‘live and play’ arrangement that co-living facilitates. These spaces enable spontaneity in the lives of people and fluid, dynamic communities that are unfettered by conventional living arrangements. Co-living communities give members the freedom to participate in social activities or do their own thing, as the whim strikes.
Apart from empowering greater everyday flexibility, co-living also has practical benefits for members – such as for individuals who want to retain the leeway to travel or pursue career opportunities that need them to relocate for a period. Sunil believes that as a culture of work-life balance takes even deeper root, a section of the population will be drawn to investing in the ability to remain responsive to their personal evolution and changing life ambitions. And in Sunil’s opinion, this section of the population will be a significant enough to warrant that developers create imaginative co-living infrastructure and solutions that are as fluid and innovative as the individuals they serve.
Ultimately, co-living is still about community, but in a manner that also reinforces, and gives expression to, individuality. With organically forming opinions among millennials driving an emphasis on sharing services and facilities rather than indulging in uncritical consumption, in the form of the concept of the ‘sharing economy’, these ideas will only gather more momentum. In fact, if the Climate Strike that thousands of schoolchildren in the UK participated in during February 2019 is any indication, subsequent generations may be even more inclined to co-living and related approaches to communal living.
The flexibility to be more rooted in one’s personal choices and priorities while benefiting from the best of community living and shared resources is the new-age vision of the social contract between an individual and their community. Emerging generations are also inclined to want to balance their desire for material convenience with their concern for the environment. Co-living is the perfect solution for replacing an either/or choice between individual consumerism and an approach based on sharing. It allows the individual to be part of a community and to indulge their social instincts, while also being able to enjoy their privacy and solitude when the mood strikes them.
The rapid pace at which social norms are being redefined, in recent decades, is rather striking, when compared to preceding centuries. It is perhaps not entirely surprising, given how radically the possibilities that an individual can explore have expanded. Technology has made it possible for the average person to travel to every extremity of the world. Evolving work practices are empowering work-life balance and remote working to an unprecedented level. It was probably inevitable that these changes would impact the lifestyle choices that people would make. Sunil believes that the co-living option will be a desirable solution for many different demographics and groups of people. While younger generations are opting for co-living based on a certain set of priorities, a growing number of middle-aged individuals who have embraced the single life are also favouring the trend. Some find co-living offers the ideal solution for meeting their aspirational needs of higher quality/luxury accommodation within their budget limitations. In Sunil’s opinion, the fact that several taboos and traditional institutions have been replaced with a more laissez-faire attitude and an accepting social construct will result in a wider palette of lifestyle choices. Sunil believes that co-living will emerge as a far more widely embraced approach to housing in the coming years, and there will be an increasing demand for developments that address this growing market.