Co-living: How Digital Nomads Find Communities In Urban Jungles

“It takes a village”. We’ve all heard the saying: to achieve something big; it helps to do it together. As we populate the cities, the concept of a “village” doesn’t always travel with us. Even if you live in a pulsing metropolis packed with people, real connections only come with effort. They’re certainly possible: as long as we design the cities well and we engage in the right activities. For the digital nomads full of wanderlust, the solution is called co-living.

As The Lonely Society report suggests, an “urban village” thrives when people habitually frequent places ideal for connection. It could be a park, a café, or a coworking space. Some even try building that village in the noise and rush of New York, Berlin, or Tokyo. Welcome to co-living. 

Freedom versus belonging

The famous relationship therapist Esther Perel mentions the village over and over. Often, we fail at relationships because we expect one person to give us what an entire group used to provide. “The community gave you your sense of identity. You knew who you were. You knew what was expected of you, and you knew how to behave,” she said for The New Yorker. That meant people were confident of their place in the world; they had a lot of belonging – but zero freedom. “And we have urbanized, and we have moved, and we have taken on radical individualism and aspirational materialism, and all of those things have created a playing field in which relationships are undergoing rapid changes. We have no idea how to handle them. Rules have been replaced by choices,” she said for the New Yorker.

What is that sweet spot between belonging and freedom? The answer could be in the rising popularity of co-living and co-housing. 

It makes sense – if the cut-throat pace of city life doesn’t get you, another trend might. More and more, we leave our colleagues and teams behind to pursue a digital nomad lifestyle. As a result, loneliness comes as a side effect. 

Due to the pandemic, remote work is here to stay, and yes, the freedom it brings is invaluable. But whether you’re planning to move your work desk to Bali or Rome, roots won’t come with you. The older you are, the more difficult it tends to be to just belong. 

Digital nomads, welcome to co-living

Humanity worked hard to bring anything we could possibly need into a confined space we call our home. Giving up on complete privacy might seem like a step back into teenage years in the dorms. Yet you’ll find digital nomads renting a simple, small bedroom in co-living spaces. Apart from that, they share the remaining spaces such as a communal kitchen, workspaces, and evening activities. 

Because of the pandemic, lines between traveling and living are getting even blurrier. “Millions of people are leaving their area and they want to get a house somewhere else. The length of stays is increasing to a week, a month, or even a couple of months at a time. That’s a whole new use case that didn’t exist in a big way before the pandemic,” Brian Chesky, co-founder, and CEO at Airbnb, said for The Atlantic. With co-living, the daunting part of slow travel – isolation – is gone. 

Just take a look at the dynamics of Sun and Co. in the Spanish town of Javea. In co-living spaces such as this all around the world, digital nomads fulfill the need to belong. As a bonus, they also build a network of friends and “colleagues”.

Investors see the possibilities, too: their funding has increased by more than 210 percent annually despite the pandemic. They are aware that the potential reaches far beyond the remote working, adventure-seeking millennials. Big cities are indeed getting too expensive for everyone and loneliness affects all generations. “The co-living trend is absolutely tied to affordability in major markets,” says David Martin from JLL. “We see rapid growth in cities that are economically prosperous, particularly gateway and unaffordable markets. There’s a change in the ideology of residents there,” he added. For example, the French startup Colonies raised €30 million last year.

The dark side of co-living

The critical voices see co-living as a cynical endeavor designed to sell expensive small rooms in unaffordable cities. In addition, they claim it has little to do with freedom. The Guardian gathered opinions of those who felt suffocated and monitored by the staff. 

“Co-living is purely a new way for developers to squeeze profit from an already broken housing market,” concluded Hannah Wheatley, a researcher on housing and land at the New Economics Foundation. Wheatley suggests that a better model exists. “Co-housing in its purest form is about communities being in control of their housing,” she said. 

While co-living initiatives are largely marketed as the home away from home for millennials, co-housing is another story. This type of living is intended to be more long-term and is welcoming to all generations.

The cornerstone is an intentional community sharing values and designing their neighborhood around whatever priorities are vital to them. Furthermore, they decide on how much space will be private and what should be shared. 

The communities are already scattered worldwide. Besides their private spaces, they could share a common house to cook and eat together, and their kids might play together on dedicated playgrounds. The members run their own finances and make decisions together. Clearly, this is a fantastic opportunity for those with alternative lifestyles, singles, or older people who would like to share their lives with others. 

That doesn’t sound like a bad retirement plan, right?

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