What is Coliving? Part 1/4: The Basic Definition

It's 2019 and the term coliving is buzzing in the news. For many, it seems to be a new concept, while historically speaking, coliving has been existing as a living concept for centuries.

What we are experiencing is not the rise of a new term. Rather, we are witnessing the growth of an existing movement, and more specifically, the emergence of an industry.

The following articles will explain what coliving is, how coliving has been growing over the last decades, and what coliving means as an industry. It attempts to shine a light on a term that is being used in too many ways, and offers a blueprint to understand coliving in a twenty-first-century context.

Ultimately, coliving is nothing new. What we’re about to discover is that it’s the term’s significance that is changing dramatically.

A Growing Trend

The term coliving has been buzzing in the last couple of years since early adopters started believing in the concept as an alternative to current housing models. Between May 2017 and January 2019, Google shows a rise in interest for the term coliving of more than 400% - and the trend seems to only have started (yes, kind of looks like Bitcoin in early days).

Search for the term “coliving” over time globally (Source: Google Trends)

The downside of popularisation is that terms can mean nothing and everything at the same time. Especially at the early stage of an industry - in which some players are trying to define the term by creating meaningful services around it while others are taking the name as a trendy label - one must rethink what coliving truly means before getting into the game of words.

Terms can also be misused if influencers lack understanding. Back in 2017, an article provoked social media harassment on how coliving ironically just “invented roommates” - making fun of coliving itself and showing its lack of originality.

Let us therefore first look at how coliving is being used in our modern context.

Is coliving truly nothing new?

The Short Answer

The short answer is - no, it isn’t new. Coliving has existed for decades, and we’ll take a look at a few examples of coliving forms in the past and present in the next part of this article.

The Long Answer

The long answer is: as a wider, more mature and established audience starts to desire forms of communal living, coliving is growing into a movement and industry of its own.

We're witnessing a shift in the number of people who are ready to live in coliving spaces - not by necessity, but by choice.

The rise of remote work, collective intelligence, and a global collaborative mindset are making coliving a viable alternative of living for many, including established families and individuals. When looking at the lower price spectrum of coliving spaces, it is also a solution to the rising rental price epidemic, and satisfies many people’s need for flexible and short-term housing desires.

Hence, we’re seeing coliving rise for the first time in history as an industry that satisfies a new lifestyle outside of traditional cohabitation spaces (such as student housing).

2019 is going to be the first year that the coliving industry is going to make a wider impact due to institutionalized backing, and the years to come are going to be crucial to define coliving as an industry.

Let’s therefore now discover what the term coliving truly means.

Defining Coliving to Its Core

The most basic definition of coliving has been giving by Bothell and Tummers:

“Coliving: a residential structure that accommodates three of more biologically unrelated people”

As George Green points out in "The Logistics of Harmonious Co-living", “the “co” has been proposed to mean ‘Collaborative’, ‘Communal’ and ‘Collective’, and thus includes a wide variety of practices" (Vestbro, 2010).

This broad definition allows multiple types of coliving forms to exist under one label - claiming the same title yet being ruled by very different industries, services, and intentions.

While this definition includes models such as student housing, hostels or senior housing, let’s explore what coliving is not to remove any potential misunderstanding.

Defining What Coliving Is Not

Family-Centered Living

If a large number of people live under one room, it is not considered co-living as long as they are blood or family related.

In the case of Ziona Chana, head of the world’s largest family with 39 wives, 94 children, 14 daughters-in-law, and 33 grandchildren (yes, 180 in total and counting), does not run a coliving space - even if he manages operations bigger than many coliving spaces, hostels and even hotels can handle.

Ziona’s house in Mizoram, India (Picture credit: The Sun)

Compounds,

which can be found in many developing countries around the world, would also fall into this category. While many families live under the same roof, share the same amenities, and eat together, compounds are inherently familial. Without a connection to the family unit, you are most likely not welcome to live in a compound long term.

Communes & Co-Housing Facilities

Especially in northern European countries, co-housing has become popular as a means to create community and share facilities such as large kitchens, laundry rooms, and kindergartens. The difference between co-housing and co-living lies in the fact that families still live separately under different roofs and put the sharing emphasis on activity areas. The same applies to communes, such as the Kibbutz, a specific type of settlement unique to the country of Israel.

Apartment Complexes

People share the same roof, yet apartment complexes do not share main amenities such as kitchen, bathroom, or living rooms. And even if some do, the majority of those still include private amenities that don’t force or encourage the tenant to live in a community. This applies to most built to rent facilities that have been constructed predominantly in the UK.

Conclusion

As we’ve seen, the term coliving is indeed large to interpretation and usage. The basic definition of coliving makes it clear that the majority of living spaces — namely, family-centered living — do not fall under the co-living category.

Yet, this definition still gives space to many different forms of coliving. In the next article, will therefore give an enhanced, more narrowed definition of the term to set a blueprint for what coliving means as a lifestyle.

This is Part 1/4 of “What is Coliving”. Continue reading part 2 here, in which we're exploring the different types of coliving forms!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I'm Gui, a coliving operator, facilitator, and industry builder with one mission: to make coliving the best experience one can have.

I founded Art of Co, a global resource platform and consultancy to create transformative coliving spaces, wrote the 📘 Art of Coliving book , and am the director of Co-Liv, the global association of coliving professionals. Come engage with other passionate coliving builders in my 👉 Telegram community or join the 👉 Coliving Cocktail newsletter, where I send out recaps of everything that happens within the coliving world!

PS: Need help to create state-of-the-art coliving experiences? Write me an email here or contact me on LinkedIn 💥

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