We’ve all been there. Coming home after a gruelling workday to an empty apartment. Some of us might be greeted by a roommate we may or may not tolerate, although that does not guarantee we’ll be spared the horror of dozing off to Netflix alone in our room with our tummies full to the brim and a stubborn thirst for human interaction.
Cities now house over 4 billion people across the world, and their density is only expected to increase in the coming decades. Yet while cities offer an ever-expanding range of business, networking, and creative opportunities, they also spawn unmatched feelings of loneliness among its residents. Global co-living developer and operator The Collective offers a tangible solution to urban isolation in a growing number of cities around the world—currently running one successful communal living site in London, with a second due to open in Canary Wharf in September, and one in New York City. The 300-strong team is headquartered across New York, London and Berlin, and has raised more than $850 million to fund its growth across the U.S., U.K and continental Europe.
Founded in 2010 by Reza Merchant, The Collective seeks to create a new landscape of urban living—one that is affordable, sustainable, safe, and integrated. One of The Collective’s primary goals is tackling the isolation prevalent in cities and utilising their facilities and resources in order to foster a growing community of people from diverse backgrounds who interact with one another in various spheres and are engaged with their surroundings.
The urban loneliness pandemic becomes a mental health hazard in a growing number of cities. A report compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that two in ten adults in the U.S. reported loneliness or isolation, with 50 percent of those claiming they had either one close friend or none whatsoever. A different survey by the insurance company Cigna reported that young adults between the ages of 18 to 22 are in fact the loneliest generation, while in London 52 percent of residents feel lonely, according to a 2013 survey by ComRes.
This widespread loneliness results from a confluence of factors. In part, this is a side-effect of our culture and lifestyle, namely our device addiction and workaholism. To a great extent, however, such loneliness is caused by urban planning traditions that perpetuate segregation and thwart social interaction, through the elimination of communal spaces like parks, gardens, and city squares. The Collective strives to eradicate this phenomenon through its unique design, programmes, and events.
The Collective buildings combine private units and communal spaces, thus encouraging social interaction while maintaining the members’ sense of privacy. Among these are co-working spaces to which members have access 24/7, and where they can merge their career development with networking and socialising opportunities.
“We’ve welcomed members from all walks of life, with each getting much more than just a roof over their head,” Reza Merchant, The Collective’s founder and CEO, told Screen Shot, adding that, “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”.
In addition, The Collective hosts various events and workshops at its facilities—from music gigs to coding bootcamp—to which residents can join, often free of charge.
The Collective’s agenda of tackling urban loneliness doesn’t end within the confines of its buildings, however. Through The Collective Foundation, their non-profit arm, the organisation operates and funds outreach and social empowerment missions in urban communities around the world, promoting social equality and engagement, as well as economic opportunities, health, well-being, and sustainability.
“One of our key themes is Social Integration,” The Foundation’s director Andre Damian told Screen Shot, adding that, “The Foundation supports initiatives that create opportunities for people from different backgrounds to meet each other, and that help to break down the barriers that exclude people from participating fully in society”.
Referring to the The Foundation’s effort to uplift The Collective’s surrounding communities and integrate them with the initiative’s residents, Damian stated that, “At our first co-living scheme in Old Oak, West London, we stitched the development into the existing fabric of the neighbourhood and created shared amenities that both our members and local people could enjoy, such as a canalside bar and restaurant and a range of spaces which can be hired out for free. Currently, those spaces are used for a variety of activities for local people, including yoga classes and community meetings”.
Damian adds that, “In the near future, we hope to support initiatives in every city and neighbourhood that The Collective has, or will have a presence in. We will launch volunteering and giving programmes that will allow members to have an opportunity to give back to their community and feel a stronger sense of belonging to it”.
In both the U.K. and the U.S., those most affected by loneliness in cities are low income and marginalised communities, with municipalities repeatedly discriminating against them in resource allocation and funding of communal spaces projects. The Collective has set a mission to tackle this problem by empowering communities that are susceptible to isolation and neglect. “In London we are currently supporting InCommon,” says Damian, “a social enterprise that bridges generational divides and tackles loneliness amongst older people by taking groups of primary school children into retirement homes to learn from their elders. Globally, we’ve supported a Brazilian non-profit that promotes LGBT+ inclusion and a platform in South Africa that brought new mothers together”.
Eradicating urban loneliness and isolation will take drastic shifts in attitude by the residents of communities, the authorities in charge of urban planning and resource allocation, as well as corporations, entrepreneurs, and developers who, through their investment, have enormous power to craft both the physical and social landscape of cities. It is initiatives such as The Collective, however, that do not only raise these issues to the surface, but also provide practical and holistic solutions—showing us that tight-knit urban communities can, and should, become a reality.
This is the third article of a three-part series looking at co-living and what the future of this new trend will hold.
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.