Communal Living On The Rise In Some Parts-Not What You Might Think

The Economist December 5, 2020 pp59-60 |International|The modern household| “Nuclear Retreat” “the pandemic may be encouraging people to live in larger groups”


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Summary of the Article

In the Western World, prior to the industrial revolution living under one roof as a large multigenerational family was the norm and for good reasons sharing the farm workload, hunting, meal preparation, eating meals, cleaning and care of the little ones. In some cases, some from outside of the family shared in the communal pot as well. Such living in many parts of the world has stood over time.

By contrast, in the West there has been “a dramatic rise in single-person households” accounting for 1/3 in France and Japan 4/10 in Germany and Finland. In fact, in these and other modern societies, beyond student or elder life, communal living is thought of being imbued with problems like fights with family or roommates and such living is “often seen negatively or as a cult.” For some “rebelling against the materialistic society” that is exactly the point. Environmentalist note that such living is “friendlier on the environment.” At the same time, as truth would have it, the idlyllic Western lifestyle of two parents and two children under one roof has been in decline as such arrangements have “halved between 1970 and 2019.” People are marrying later, less often and more frequently not forever.

Companies like “The Collective” and “Kin” are commercializing on the subtle rise in communal living. The Collective (British) has co-living buildings in New York and London (2). The “members” are mostly young single “professionals” that reside in “studio flats but share lounges, gyms and a roster of events from cocktail mixing to running clubs.” Members stay an average of nine months and range in age from 18-67 years old “average is 30.” Kin has two buildings in New York “designed for families” that are accommodated with “up to four bedrooms and access to communal facilities and services, including a play area and nannies.”

“The most experimental housing today, is in Scandinavia, involves multiple generations of unrelated people who did not get a say on whom they lived with.” “Residents must pass an interview” and “sign a contract to spend two hours per week socializing with neighbors.” There are benefits. Parents having small children may arrange childcare for an evening out, they may feel a better work/life balance and elders don't feel socially isolated and reports suggest that lowers the risk of dementia in elders.

How have both the communal and private space? To a degree good design can mitigate some disadvantages of sharing spaces. Kitchens may be in view of neighbors but other rooms in the private space can be better concealed. In some ways governments have and do limit such communal living. “Landlords in Britain need a special license to let single homes to multiple families. In New York individually rented apartments having to share bathrooms are banned (to discourage brothels).”

Those in favor of “communal living say it has made lockdowns more bearable”. Some adjustments were made like seating fewer together for meals and doing so in pods of well-ventilated spaces.” Younger residents have helped elders by doing the in-person shopping during the pandemic.