BY Livian Lin
Here’s a shocking statistic: The number of Americans who feel they have zero friends has tripled since 1985, with one in four now reporting they have no one to confide in.
Loneliness has become an epidemic, and surveys suggest that in Europe, one in ten people are lonely – with Britons at the top of that scale.
You might be tempted to assume that this phenomenon is more prevalent in Individualistic societies (read: Western), but loneliness is global and a product of urbanisation, crossing numerous cultures.
Chinese, more than Americans are prone to feel lonelier as they blame themselves for breakdowns in their social network. With a growing number of one- or two-person households reaching as high as 40% (a far cry from days of everyone in the family living under one roof) loneliness hits hard for this collectivistic society.
Japan’s growing number of households and declining population is also resulting in more single person households.
The term Kozoku which combines lonely and group, coined by national press the Asahi Shimbun, has now been adopted into government policies because of the widespread and urgency of the matter. In a collectivistic society, where family and community is the operative social unit, the reduction of household size and decreasing work security due to a downward economy can have a devasting impact.
South Korea too saw a significant jump in single-person households, from 15.8% to 27.1%, in a short five-year span from 2010 to 2015. Almost one third of this highly connected population ironically feels they have no meaningful social network at all.
Shockingly, the loneliest amongst us are the elderly and the Millennials.
Whilst housing developments have succeeded in providing homes for a large and growing number of single and double occupants, it failed to curtail the waning principle neighbourliness and a growing sense of isolation.
A solution has now presented itself, but it is hardly a new idea. Instead, it is the rediscovery of an old one.
Remember the Hippie communes of the 60s? Well, now imagine something like that without all the “free love” and narcotics.
Today’s communes are termed as intentional community and co living. Loosely based on the Hippie sub-culture communal living concept community, these modern communes are pricipaled on co-living – that is to say they are devoid of the social, political or spiritual or religious beliefs that formed the basis of the communes of yesteryears. These are mostly located in the city or at the heart of tourist hotspots, but the good news is residents are neither required to share communal duties nor pledge loyalty to it.
The Collective, one of the pioneers in the industry, describes co-living as “a way of living focused on a genuine sense of community, using shared spaces and facilities to create a more convenient and fulfilling lifestyle”.
The physical manifestation of this is a 550 bedroom development with communal lounges, kitchens, restaurant, bar, launderette, spa, gym, cinema room, games room and library in Old Oak Lane, London.
Services include linen changes, concierge facilities and wifi. The Collective also owns and runs five other smaller co-living residences (developed earlier) as well as three co-working spaces in London.
WeLive, a sister company of WeWork, has a 200-suite co living space located on Wall Street in New York, and another in Washington DC. It also champions community spirit with communal lounges, dining areas, activity rooms and group activities.
Another co-living facilitator, Roam, had its first location was in Bali, where a boutique hotel was transformed into a 24-bedroom co-living residence that features a pool, communal chef grade kitchen and a co-working-cum-event space on the rooftop.
They now run four residences across continents, with properties in Miami, London, Tokyo and they are working on the revival of its Madrid operation. Each is sleekly designed with a touch of local charm. The London outlet is minimalist with English details, while Roam in Bali is lush and green.
The well-known Ascott Limited hospitality brand test launched its first co-living and co-working brand “lyf” in Singapore. Pronounced “life”, first outlet is a collaboration with Singapore Management University and it was test launched on the university’s property – a 32,000 sq ft three-storey lab.
The property boasts communal areas that include an event hall, sports area, jamming studios, multi media room, discussion and learning room, workshop spaces, launderette, communal kitchen, cafe and dining area.
Apart from communal spaces, Roam in Bali feels there is so much it can do to promote community and a sense of believing; top amongst that is a network of friendly hyper local partners like cafes, grocers and bars to make members feel at home in the neighbourhood.
Activities like communal dinners, cooking classes, non-traditional networking events, parties, skill shares, live music and movie nights are just some of the activities it highlights. Local knowledge plays a key role and Roam’s team are on hand to help.
Jessica Tran, public relations representative of Roam shares the company’s values. Although Roam’s members come from a diverse group, she said people find joy and connection within community.
“You have your own space when you want to retreat, but through the various events, our member groups online and just having a coffee in the kitchen. You have access to all kind of interesting people from all over the world and it’s just so easy,” said Tran.
“We put a lot of thought into this part of the model. Ultimately, people seek connection and community and our concept delivers that really well,” she added.
The Thrive Hive in Bali, a smaller co-living property with the goal of promoting personal growth and sustainable living, was founded in 2015 by Dean Larsen while sailing through the Pacific Ocean.
He had met 25 other people on a retreat and deeply missed the experience of sharing ideas and connecting. About 15 returned to join him at The Thrive Hive in Bali. Although there were teething problems and the challenge of maintaining harmony, which he expected, Larson was more surprised that communal living allowed each to thrive significantly.
Karoline Zizka, one of The Thrive Hive residents was drawn to co-living because of the lower costs and the opportunity to connect with other like-minded people. She found that it had a big impact on her personal growth, living among others and learning from each other was rewarding, challenging and mostly beautiful.
Ziska latter joined Larson in managing The Thrive Hive. Having a background in hospitality, she found that her training in the service industry was challenged.
“It is the support and vision of The Thrive Hive that people are looking for” she said, adding that this realisation has aided in creating a workable community.
Community and comradeship aside, co-living also provides convenience. Co -iving eliminates home purchasing legalities, formalities and free residents from lengthy contracts. Furnished with beddings, working kitchen, lounges, activity areas and wifi, individuals are removed of regular maintenance and upkeep costs while being rewarded with a full lifestyle.
Roam feels the future of housing is changing dramatically. The need for household items is beginning to reduce, and people no longer feel they are bound by the geographical borders of their birthplace. Increasingly, collaborative communities are where work happens and ideas are spawned.
Roam charges ranges from US$500 per week’s stay in Bali, while the cost is US$850 per week in London. All units come with en suite bathrooms and the Bali residence even has a private patio.
WeLive DC charges US$1,640 per month for a private studio and US$1,200 per person per month for a four bedroom unit. WeLive New York starts from US$3,050 per month for a studio and US$1,900 per person per month for a four bedroom unit.
The Collective Old Oak in London charges between US$250 to US$425 per week for a room. All charges include the utilities fee.
By comparison, a traditional lease on a one-bedroom property in London costs an average of US$1,500 per month, and the rent does not include utilities.
There are of course deposits and contracted tenure. Tenure of stay at a co-living space can be one day to months, or as long as you want. It does depend on availability and longer term residents are preferred.
Roam’s main challenge back in 2015 was not the lack of support for this evolving concept, but the lack of occupancy. Now, it finds that they are constantly busy and trying to expand as fast as their demand.
Meanwhile, lyf is already looking to expand into Australia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the United Kingdom.
Mr Lee Chee Koon, CEO of Ascott said the company defines Millennials not so much by age, but as a social generation that craves discovery and desires to be part of a community. They already represent one quarter Ascotts customer-base and that number is expected to grow exponentially. Optimistic, lyf aims to provide over 10,000 units by 2020.
There is also an increasing number of Millennials on expatriate postings with smaller housing budget and shorter rotation tenure. Aware of the changing trend, lyf adopts a test and emergent strategy to stay abreast and relevant.
Larson is working on sustainable living collaborations as well as a platform for co-living residences and operators to access co living resources, places and network.
“Co-living is very relevant in my eyes,” he said, believing the challenge is working with many and different models.
Euromonitor International’s 2016 World Travel Market Global Trends Market noted that there is a rise in start-ups offering full amenities co-living, and it credits the rise of co-living opportunities to increased job flexibility, popularity of solo travel and the rising marriage age.
Co-living provides flexibility and multipurpose spaces catering to the increasingly blurring of boundaries between work and private life, leisure and business travel.
Larson says that the concept of co living is new, but the desire for people to live together with intention, is not.
It is said that each generation builds upon the ideas of previous generations. The Millennials are perhaps reimagining the Hippie communes to suit a better purpose – rather than a hideaway to retreat from the world, it is now a tool to reconnect in an increasingly disconnected world.
The World Wide Web may have indeed connected the globe, but without the human touch, the world can still be a very lonely place after all.