Saturday 17 November 2012

Humans Are Not Bees Or Ants, Owen, That’s Why…

Owen Hatherley again. This time extolling the virtues of communal living:
Communes are not, as a rule, taken particularly seriously as possible living arrangements for the majority of the population. For some reason, it is still considered common sense for housing, irrespective of its quality, to be as private as possible.
Well, yes. Just as the privately-owned car will always be superior to public transport.

It’s a bit of a no-brainer really.
But in practice, especially in larger cities, housing is collective by accident. It's not just students – the housing crisis is pushing people into flatsharing into their 30s and beyond.
Ah, yes, the ‘housing crisis’, or rather more accurately, the ‘housing (where houses are too expensive where the jobs are) crisis’…
But luxury flats rented to groups of aspirant junior clerks or sold-off council housing and private rented accommodation subdivided into multiple profitably lettable units both ensure that basic facilities – such as toilets and kitchens – have to be shared, without the space or the design being prepared for that. Could collective housing, where the sharing of communal spaces is assumed from the outset, be the answer?
Probably not, no.

But little Owen’s off to find an example that works, which can then be used to prove the same thing will work in a different country with a different social history:
Berlin's Lebensort Vielfalt (Diverse Living Space) is the kind of housing project that no developer or municipality in the UK would consider for a split second. An LGBT housing scheme, with 60% allocated to older tenants, it's the kind of quietly successful project that undemonstratively shows other ways of living are possible.
In what way is it ‘diverse’ if it only caters to LGBT people?
Meanwhile, squats, long the major laboratory of experiments in group living, are being criminalised, not coincidentally at the time when they're most needed. Squatting is usually – and especially now – a response to emergency, a matter of improvisation, taking somewhere dilapidated, removing the trees growing into the floorboards and getting electricity and drainage working.
But as we’ve seen before, squatting is not – and rarely has been – ‘a response to emergency’. And it rarely results in an improvement to the building, in fact, quite the opposite.
… collective living no longer needs to be attached to a "lifestyle" or an easily parodied stereotype. As the crisis of private housing rages, it looks increasingly sensible.
Then, as I asked before, Owen, where do you live?


oswald thake said...

I see he received a right pasting in the comments!

Anonymous said...


Near where I work in the lovely former Soviet Union are an area of communal flats, no-one in their right minds wants to live there. Could we send Owen to actually live out his collective fantasies? Is there a housing crisis or is it a man-made issue caused by the last incompetant government creating an illusion of wealth?

Noggin the Nog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Noggin the Nog said...

These bacon, lettuce and tomato people really get on my pip.

ivan said...

IF there is such a housing shortage then this idiot should be pushing for other ways of supplying the missing housing.

Maybe something like containers being placed where the now defunct factories are would help, or the government could put a stop to the rampant immigration of 'asians'.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AndrewWS said...

One of the glories of a free society is that if people want to live communally (or run a business along cooperative lines) there is nothing to stop them. Off you go, Owen, get on with it, but count me out.

JuliaM said...

"I see he received a right pasting in the comments!"

Yes, occasionally the commentariat can surprise you!

"Could we send Owen to actually live out his collective fantasies?"

Ooh, I've got a long list of places!

"..if people want to live communally (or run a business along cooperative lines) there is nothing to stop them."

Personal choice? Hmmm, the 'Guardianistas' have heard of it, but don't believe it'll catch on.