What’s Next in the Sharing Economy?

Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009 for her research that a “commons” based society was more efficient. Since then, her idea has become increasingly embedded in the way our workplaces, businesses, and communities are developing.

In fact, Indy Hall founder Alex Hillman believes we are only at the beginning of this shift.

“Coworking spaces are becoming popular as effective places to get work done, but I think that’s only scratching the surface of what they’re good for,” he said.   “I think that coworking spaces are new incarnations of the ‘community center’ for neighborhoods, cities, and industries.”

The sharing economy and rise of collaborative consumption indeed have spawned businesses like Groupon, Zipcar, and Thredup. But policy makers, architects, and urban planners are still grappling with what this means for the future of residences, office buildings, public places, and the urban environment.

Koho Southport, Image 1

After all, it seems we are happy to share our offices, cars, and even lawnmowers. But are we happy to share our living space? Will we embrace the concepts of both mixed-use and adaptive re-use in our homes?

Some innovative projects in the United States, Japan, and Australia are beginning to blur the lines between living and working. These movements are suggesting a return to community as a key organizing concept.

The Embassy Network (United States)

For example, the Embassy Network (currently in San Francisco and D.C.) is aiming to take the concept of coworking to a 24/7 lifestyle by providing co-living environments built around organic creativity and innovation.

It’s an interesting idea aiming to capitalize on:

  • Co-location
  • The fresh perspectives that comes with travel
  • The organic interactions that happen in the home environment
  • The power of food for building community

Koho Southport, Image 2

Each individual co-living environment provides a curated, full-time space for organic and impromptu interactions.

Each node within the environment has independent, day-to-day operations and a distinct culture. It hosts its own microcosm of workshops, salons, dinners, and other events.

Residents are chosen by other residents, and the balance of rooms set aside for short- and long-term accommodation is decided by residents.

The Share (Tokyo)

The Share is a Tokyo development offering compact bedrooms with shared laundry, bathroom facilities, kitchen, and lounge area.

The building was a former company dorm adapted by ReBITA. The Share is a mixed-use building with 64 studio rooms. It also has offices for rent, shops, a restaurant, and its own radio station to help people connect.

Koho Southport (Australia)

A similar idea has sprung up in Southport Queensland, where Koho founder Adam Bennett-Smith has created a shared living community that has won over stakeholders from the residents to city hall.

“Koho Southport was a design experiment to explore responses to critical lack of affordable housing for single living and working people on the Gold Coast,” he said. “Accommodation that was close to employment hubs, transport, and shops is traditionally expensive and generally not designed with single people in mind.”

Residents have embraced the concept with doctors, university students, firemen, and teachers all living at the premises at one time or another. Here, ad-hoc conversations don’t have an end time and the sharing of ideas happens among a diverse group of individuals.

“Often people will stay in touch long after they have moved out and we have also had people return for second and even third stints at the house.   Residents don’t share bills or housework, which are the two most common points of conflict.   What you get left with is all of the really positive aspects of communal living.”

Koho Southport, Image 3

Designing for the Sharing Economy

The impetus for the project taking off has been the rise of the sharing economy and collaborative consumption.

With things like car sharing and peer-to-peer rentals, people are exploring a new quality of lifestyle that they can achieve on smaller budgets.

Designers who take on projects like Embassy Network, The Share, and Koho Southport are blurring the lines between living and working spaces in innovative ways. They’re challenging traditional models of urban planning and financing, which are key structural obstacles to change in this area.

Koho Southport, Image 4

The sharing economy is pushing for houses designed to “convert” from live/work to share/collaborate. To do this, we have invent new ways in which walls can move or plumbing points can be concealed within the same building.

We have to create 2 sets of plans for each space — one for a family and one for 5 single people or working professionals — that still look like a normal house from the street.

We think this is the future of live/work/share.

Libby Sander

Libby Sander is the founder of Rethink and The Future of Work Project in Australia. She is currently working on an integrated live/work community to encourage entrepreneurship and deliver greater economic diversity for the Gold Coast, host of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

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