‘Social distancing’, the term we are all very familiar with now due to COVID-19, is still very new for us—but it’s been going on for a long time in the animal kingdom. According to a recent study in Proceedings of the Royal Academy B, researchers observed how members of different species behaved around each other in the face of disease. Interestingly, evidence shows that animals have been reducing the transmission of disease in the same way we are now through social distancing for decades. Here’s what we can learn from them.
Animals that stay in groups are usually the first ones to adopt some socially distancing measures. Because living with many other animals of the same species makes it easier to capture prey or avoid predators, social animals also face a heightened risk of infection from contagious diseases. Those who socially distance during an outbreak are those that instinctively increase their chances of producing offspring. These actions are what disease ecologists call ‘behavioural immunity’, as animals can’t make their own vaccines like we do, so instead prevent it by changing how they live.
There is a strong correlation between the animals that, like humans, need community for a healthy mental state. These types of animals are less likely to isolate themselves, if even at all. Grey wolves for example, do not separate themselves from a wolf in the pack that has been infected with sarcoptic mange, because the harm of the disease is outweighed by the long term survival benefits of remaining as a pack.
Spiny lobsters have a very different set of actions to benefit their species’ long term health, they detect and avoid infected group mates that have the Panulirus argus virus 1, which kills more than half of the juvenile lobsters it infects. Young lobsters in general are easy prey for the virus because the animals are so social and share dens, corals and rocky crevices along the ocean floor.
In the early 2000s, a study was carried out to reason why some young lobsters were left to be alone. After testing the researchers found that these lobsters were infected with the virus 1 and that they had been abandoned by their fellow lobsters. These ocean crawlers spot afflicted ones by using a sniff test, which detects chemicals in infected lobsters’ urine by smelling it through the water.
These social distancing strategies sometimes mean maintaining social ties, for protection like the wolves mentioned before, or company. Another highly social animal is the mandrill—a primate that can be found in groups of tens to 100s in tropical rainforests of equatorial Africa. These groups are made up of a mix of extended family members that frequently groom each other, which deepens their social bonds as well as improves hygiene, but these behaviours change when sickness is around.
Grooming is avoided between infected and non-infected mandrills, and infections are detected again by their keen sense of smell, however, a study led by scientist and behavioural ecologist Clemence Poirotte shows that certain close relatives continued to groom each other regardless of the risk of contamination, with the sole aim of maintaining unconditional ties with relatives to reap the long-term benefits.
Humans are in the same boat as animals, and we have a long evolutionary history of infectious diseases. In the result of this history, we have built our own forms of behavioural immunity, like the feeling of disgust we have for dirty or over populated environments.
Over the years, we have developed medications and vaccines in order to help prevent the diseases we come into contact with, but time has come to introduce us to a novel disease, COVID-19. An unpredictable virus that needs time to be observed—Dana Hawley, a biologist at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute spoke to Science Magazine about social distancing in the animal kingdom, and said “a big takeaway is that social distancing works. Anytime we see a behavior that has evolved again and again in unrelated types of animals, that’s a signal that even though social distancing is a very costly behavior, the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.”
Co-living is not a brand new concept, and yet, recently, an improved version of the 1960s movement seems to be making a comeback in major cities across the world. So what is co-living and how has it changed from its previous commune connotation to one of the most innovative ways of using urban space today, attracting an entire host of tenants in search of something that better fits their needs?
Co-living is a form of housing that combines shared communal facilities with private living spaces—it’s basically a home that promotes both social contact through community events alongside much needed personal space and privacy. It’s about time we realise that the future of cities and living needs to undergo a big change, and companies providing co-living spaces like The Collective are putting some fascinating ideas on the table.
When it first opened in 2016, The Collective was the U.K.’s first large-scale co-living space operating in the field. Today, it provides co-living locations in London, in Old Oak and the recently opened Canary Wharf in, New York, and planned sites in Chicago, Miami, and Germany, while operating out of three offices globally. To give a sense of scale for the demand for this new way of living, to date, The Collective has raised $800 million.
Migration to big cities like London and New York is on the rise, which puts the already limited housing stock under pressure. Add to this the unavailability of small and reasonably-priced flats in trendy areas plus the uncertainty of living with strangers, and you’ll quickly realise why co-living is evolving alongside a growing demand for fully furnished houses that offer good facilities and utilities, while also making tenants feel less isolated.
Co-living then tackles the space and the loneliness issues in one swift go, something that has become urgent in the U.K., with inner city people more likely to be lonely than those in any other area, and 23 percent of the population most likely to feel on their own—despite having hundreds of followers on Instagram and however many Facebook friends. Talking to Screen Shot about what led him to create this community-driven living space, founder and CEO of The Collective Reza Merchant said, “I came across how difficult it was to find good quality accommodation whilst I was studying at the London School of Economics. It was hard to find a place that was homely and didn’t isolate me from the community around me. This struck me as a very unnatural way to live, as by nature we’re social creatures. At The Collective we want to reinstate our social needs which is why we’ve made it our mission to build and activate spaces that foster human connection and enable people to lead more fulfilling lives”.
The movement of co-living is offering our ever-changing world new ideas of how we’ll be living in the future. The way we use the space we live in has changed. We’re out during the day, out during the night; we need flexibility in everything we do. And what about those empty flats we leave behind for probably 80 percent of the day? Doesn’t it make sense that we find a way to reduce the sheer mass of empty space? “As we increasingly become global citizens, rather than citizens of just one country, owning a property has become less of a priority. We’re much more concerned with personal fulfillment and shared experiences than material possessions”, Merchant notes, adding that, “Cities are huge playgrounds for this, which is where co-living is making a real difference. We’ve welcomed members from all walks of life, with each getting much more than just a roof over their head. Their shared experiences enrich each other’s lives, whether that be collaborating on work, forming new friendships, falling in love, or just simply hearing different stories over dinner”.
Co-living spaces are curated for a new and specific living experience where it’s all about sharing the right amount of space and the right amount of time with the right amount of people. And what makes The Collective different from other companies operating in the field is that it works to accommodate tenants of various ages, nationalities, and professions through communal events and spaces—creating a melting pot at your doorstep.
The Collective doesn’t stand out just because of the aesthetically pleasing design of its spaces, but, most importantly, due to its new approach toward co-living. It wants you to live in a nice and clean space, yes, but also for you to feel connected to the community and be inspired by the people and the spaces that surround you, so you can get more from your home than just a good night’s sleep and a hot shower.
What’s next on the agenda, then? And what more could we get out of this new concept of living? The lifestyle that companies like The Collective are offering us is a step toward demanding more from where and what we call home. Pretty buildings with gyms, pools, terraces, and TV rooms are not what make this whole concept interesting; rather, it’s the community that can come out of it. To establish a global network of co-living communities that are built on continuous learning, innovation and improvement, The Collective looks at the long-term operation and how it can improve to give you the best co-living experience.
Looking at how people live in communities now, and at how it sometimes works out and sometimes doesn’t, co-living is only at the beginning of its journey. For now, at least, it looks like our bright future is made of shared spaces, communal experiences, and a bit of alone time in a thoughtfully designed private space.
This is the first article of a three-part series looking at co-living and what the future of this new trend will hold. Parts two and three will soon be published on Screen Shot online.