On the 22th and 23th of november an event took place in Amsterdam on collaborative housing: the Co-lab seminar. It was organized by Co-Lab Research which is a knowledge hub on collaborative housing. The seminar included several talks on the concept of co-housing and its history and also on Dutch and other European cases. Furthermore there were discussions and finally the second day a field trip took place to a few collaborative housing projects.
Collaborative housing offers beautiful potential as a sustainable form of housing. By sharing space, the amount of personal space required can be smaller, reducing the use of energy and land. Furthermore, co-housing can stimulate the shared use of property, equipment and services an example of which is car-sharing. It can also help socially by providing a network of people who look after each other, who can share in responsibilities such as cooking and looking after kids.
I joined the session to see whether my thesis could focus (in part) on collaborative housing. I found it a very interesting topic and I learned quite a bit. One big eye opener came from a lecture by Carla Huisman who also (co)founded the (non-profit) housing association Soweto in Amsterdam (guided by principles of initiative and independence, solidarity and sustainability). She mentioned how the Netherlands, which is still known for a large share of social housing, used to have even more social housing owned by housing associations. Looking back, our current housing market has been commodified, housing has become in many cases mainly an object to trade for financial gains. This is illustrated by the huge increase of foreign investment in the dutch housing market recently.
In the end I had the feeling that co-housing can contribute greatly to a more sustainable urban landscape. However I was also left with the feeling that for sustainable co-housing to really flourish, we need to change the rules of the game, our economic system. Co-housing seems to be something that is on the rise, it is becoming more accepted and attractive. But at the same time we are also seeing that commercial parties are using this ‘efficient’ housing to be able to sell more houses at the same (high) price in dense urban areas, here the ‘surplus’ of living together is not invested in making things more sustainable. This sounds very much like the well know rebound effect that diminishes so many sustainable ideas from led-lights to more efficient transport, here applied to collaborative housing.
What does this mean for my thesis? I guess I want to keep the focus more on the system change, questioning the paradigms underlying the relentless commodification of nature and endless growth. Co-housing contributes to a different perspective. I wonder what other urban solutions are out there.