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Paper for the Second International Conference on Degrowth, Barcelona, 25-29 March 2010.

Saving by Sharing – Collective Ho...
A part of the alternative living movement consists of eco-villages. Swedish eco-villages
typically focus on passive heatin...
common spaces were the following: 16 of the 18 units had a dining room, a kitchen, a work-
shop and some kind of social sp...
In the Swedish context design aspects of cohousing have been investigated by the author
of this paper. In a study from the...
Meltzer, Graham (2000): “Cohousing: Verifying the Importance of Community in the Application of
   Environmentalism”, in J...
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Saving by Sharing – Collective Housing for Sustainable Lifestyles


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Saving by Sharing – Collective Housing for Sustainable Lifestyles

  1. 1. Paper for the Second International Conference on Degrowth, Barcelona, 25-29 March 2010. Saving by Sharing – Collective Housing for Sustainable Lifestyles Dick Urban Vestbro, Professor Emeritus, School of Architecture and the Built Environment, The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, It is well known that the richest 20 per cent of world population consume 80 per cent of global resources. One of the major areas of resource use is housing. In Sweden the average resident has at her/his disposal 90 tons of building materials. Housing areas serve as gigantic flow pumps. The largest flows are air and water. An average household exchanges 700 tons of air and carries home 1 ton of food and other daily goods and uses up to 100-150 tons of water per year. In Sweden water is cheap but heating and cleaning it requires vast amounts of energy. When it comes to energy use, the average resident uses 7-8 MWh per year, half of which comes from non-renewable energy (Svane 2002:14-15). To change this situation it is necessary not only to apply new technology, but also to change lifestyles. The need for collective organisation Individuals left to themselves are less motivated to change behaviour compared to groups who work out their own procedures for change. If many individuals must change their behaviour to achieve an environmental impact, there is little incentive for a particular individual to change his/her behaviour. However, social norms, communication among group members, and large pay-offs can foster cooperation for pro-environment behaviour. Prescriptive norms for cooperation should include the norm of reciprocity. It has proved successful if people have face-to-face communication, and if one can monitor what other people do. In such a situation a person may have no personal opinion about what is the right thing to do, but once one learns what others think, this is all that matters (Biel 2003). Similar observations have been made by Lundgren, who notes that only a few people are prepared to sacrifice their short-term interest unless others do so too. He finds that the best way to change other people’s opinions is to change the possibilities open to them, and that it is easier to achieve results through collective measures. Often there is, however, a reluctance to influence others, the assumption being that non-interference in other people’s behaviour warrants non-interference in one’s own (Lundgren 1999). In his report Nordic Households and Sustainable Housing architect professor Örjan Svane discusses the dilemma between individual and collective actions. Households often belong to a neighbourhood, to a homeowners or a tenants association, which may become important actors for the reduction of harmful environmental impacts. In his research Svane puts special emphasis on ‘the small neighbourhood’ where residents have a chance to know each other. Here a number of actions may be taken to reduce environmental impacts. Such actions include refurbishment of the buildings, new maintenance practices and participation of the residents in maintenance (Svane 2002:32-37). The alternative living movement Groups of people getting together to achieve environmental goals are not new. The alternative living movement of the 1970s usually had far-reaching environmental goals. A more recent example is the network Eurotopia, to which European cohousing units, eco- villages and other types of communities are attached. In the USA an alternative living movement is gaining momentum. The Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) includes eco-villages, cohousing units, religious communities, and appropriate technology groups that advocate cooperative lifestyles, citizens’ participation in planning and house building, ecological farming, use of sustainable energy and peaceful conflict resolution (Downey & Elph 2000; FIC 2004). 1
  2. 2. A part of the alternative living movement consists of eco-villages. Swedish eco-villages typically focus on passive heating or heating through solar panels, waste water that is taken care of locally, composing organic waste, natural ventilation, and eco-labelled building materials. Often residents participate in the planning of the settlement (Lanne 2004). In a study by architect researcher Palm Lindén the author notes that living in an eco-village means a move away from individual or family-centred lifestyle towards cooperation and a more sensual life, closer to nature (Palm Lindén 1999). Collaborative housing An interesting part of the alternative living movement consists of what is usually called collaborative housing or cohousing. In Sweden the most frequent type of such housing is the self-work model developed in the 1980s, a unit of 15-50 apartments, where the residents take care of meal services and other tasks through communal efforts. Today about 40 such units exist in Sweden. Cohousing residents usually favour gender equality and ‘post-materialist’ values – those that give weight to parents’ time with children, meaningful leisure time activities and care for qualities in nature rather than in consumer products (McCamant & Durrett 1988; Woodward 1989; Vestbro 2000, Vestbro 2009). In North American cohousing the ideological base seems to be the same. In a chapter of the FIC Directory US cohousing is presented as standing in opposition to the materialistic ‘American Dream’, the one where owning a single-family detached house, a two-car garage, and a private yard is the desired goal. Instead cohousers look for a simpler, less materialistic, more sustainable way of life. The author points out that it is unrealistic to expect that those who have not experienced those lifestyles want to live simpler (Paiss 2000:142). In another chapter of the same book it is noted that cohousing took root in North America in the 1990s in response to the overwhelming emphasis on the home as private sanctuary. Characteristic for US cohousing experiments are resident involvement in the design process, a site plan that encourages interaction, a ‘common house’ that provides a place for varied resident activities, and an emphasis on resident self-management. The Australian architect researcher Graham Meltzer has made a comprehensive study of US cohousing as a place for pro-environment attitudes and behaviours. His research was carried out in 1996 on 18 of the 22 cohousing units he traced. The number of households per community ranged from six to 42 with an average of 22. Three were classified as urban, five as small town, eight as suburban and two as rural. In a summary of his research he noted that US cohousing communities express strong commitment to environmental values. The main focus of the study was on cohousing as a context for change towards sustainable lifestyles (Meltzer 2000, see further below). Save by sharing One of the most important aspects of sustainable living is to save on building materials and heated (or cooled) indoor space by living in smaller housing units. In his study of US cohousing Meltzer addresses this issue. He finds that the studied units range from 88 to 173 sqm, the average being 120 sqm. This deviates considerably from the US average one-family house of 205 sqm (new houses built in 1993). When moving to cohousing settlements the investigated households left houses of an average of 142 sqm behind. The reduction by only 22 sqm may seem small, but becomes more impressive if we assume that many of the cohousers are middle class people in the process of forming a family, i.e. persons who probably would build 200 sqm houses if they had been part of the mainstream. That residents have made a conscious choice in favour of smaller houses is supported by the fact that residents expressed a willingness to reduce dwellings and room sizes with reference to their access to common facilities and the conviviality associated with shared facilities (Meltzer 2000). To get a fair picture of the amount of space used we must add the communal spaces. In Meltzer’s study the common facilities constitute an average of 15 sqm per household. The 2
  3. 3. common spaces were the following: 16 of the 18 units had a dining room, a kitchen, a work- shop and some kind of social space; 15 had a kid’s room; 14 had a common laundry and a guest room; 10 had a library, a pool and an office; 9 had a common TV room; 8 had a room for teenagers; 5 had a crafts room, and 3 had an exercise room. Sharing is also done for facilities such as lawn mowers, garden equipment, carpentry tools, washers, dryers, freezers, TVs and video recorders. Sharing reduces household consumption and builds social relations (Meltzer 2000). In Swedish cohousing one of the goals is to increase access to attractive indoor space by abstaining from some private space in favour of common spaces such as dining room, children’s play room, guest room, sauna, workshops and exercise room. In an influential book written by ten women it was emphasised that the self-work model is a model that “saves on material resources and liberates human resources”. Programmatically it was proposed that the private kitchen and living room can be combined into one room, and that kitchen equipment can be reduced since residents would eat their main means in the common dining room (BIG-gruppen 1982). In a study from the 1980s the issue of saving by sharing was addressed. Of seven investi- gated units the proportion of common spaces varied from 3 to 21 % of the total amount of floor space, representing 1.5 to 17 sqm per household. The study found that three of six studied units had smaller apartments than normal. Between 23 and 70% of the residents expressed a willingness to reduce apartment sizes, while 10 to 53% were ready to reduce kitchen equipment (Woodward, Vestbro & Grossman 1989). The apartment sizes referred to here are in the range of 55-100 sqm, which is considerably lower than the spaces noted for US cohousing units. In the biggest of the Swedish collective housing units of the 1980s, Stolplyckan in the city of Linköping with 184 apartments, the working group initiating the project decided from the start that housing costs should be the same as in other contemporary project, which in turn meant that private apartment space was reduced in favour of communal spaces. To achieve this, kitchens were either designed without space for a dining table or combined with living rooms (Pedersen 1991). One may note that the number of households per 10,000 inhabitants is higher in Sweden than elsewhere in the world. The reason is that young people move from their parents at an early age; that long life expectancy is combined with independent living, and that divorce rates are high. Thus the number of one-person households has more than doubled in 25 years, while households of more than four persons have been reduced substantially. About 75% of Swedish households are one or two-person households. Overcrowding has been more or less eradicated. Instead over-consumption of space is prominent. In a study from the 1980s it was estimated that 66% of Swedish households have one room or more per person, living room and kitchen not counted. In a study by Sanne it was found that the equivalent of 200,000 houses can be ‘saved’ if households in overstandard dwellings move to houses appropriate to their needs. The main problem to achieve this is that big old houses are cheaper than new small houses (Sanne 1986). In this case behavioural change towards sustainable lifestyle is a question of moving to a smaller house. Design to promote lifestyle changes In his study of US cohousing Meltzer uses the wider concept ‘setting’ to comprise location, site design and architecture. Site design comprises land-use, density, infrastructure and landscaping. Among other things Meltzer finds that green belts are preserved and that buildings are usually clustered so as to limit vehicle access. Furthermore, of the 18 units 8 have recycled building materials, 8 have super insulation, 7 have refurbished existing buildings, 6 have programmable thermostats and heat exchangers and 3 have passive solar design. Meltzer finds a strong improvement in recycling and composting practices, compared to earlier residence, while repair and reuse as strategies to reduce unnecessary consumption and waste, are not well applied (Meltzer 2000). 3
  4. 4. In the Swedish context design aspects of cohousing have been investigated by the author of this paper. In a study from the 1980s house type, room system, number of apartments, proportion and type of common spaces were discussed. The 45 studied units were found to vary from 9 to 328 apartments. It was concluded that compact solutions are desirable in order to facilitate easy access to common spaces. Concerning quality of common spaces, one of the conclusions was that they should be located where residents pass frequently and be provided with glazed walls in order to promote spontaneous use (Woodward, Vestbro & Grossman 1989). The same conclusion was drawn in a study of the Stolplyckan unit. The researcher made the observation that intermediary spaces between the private and collective constitutes impor- tant social elements. It was concluded that the corridor (400 m long) becomes a free zone for children and youngsters, a place where “they can develop their social life within their own group” – a space that “provides excitement at the same time as adults feel that it is a safe environment for the children” (Pedersen 1991). Conclusions Housing is an important area for efficient resource use. This may be achieved not only by environment-friendly design when planning new areas, or by improving maintenance pro- cedures, but also by creating a physical environment that promotes sustainable lifestyles. Lifestyle changes do not depend only on information about environmental threats, but also on social norms, physical cues and economic structures. Pro-environment behaviour may be promoted by collective action and a spatial organisation that facilitates community cooperation. An important aspect of cohousing is its capacity to save by sharing facilities such as common meals, childcare, hobby rooms, guest rooms, saunas etc. US cohousers use 30% less space per person than other households. People in Swedish youth communes consume considerably less space compared to that of the average Swedish citizen. In Swedish cohouses one may save both by reducing the normal apartment by 10% and by accepting fewer rooms than in non-collective living. Other design and planning factors of importance for behaviour change are land-use, density, infrastructure and location. Location determines the need for travel, access to public transport, and walking and biking. Compact house types facilitate easy access to common spaces, which in turn stimulate more efficient use of space. Common spaces should be located where residents pass frequently and be provided with glazed walls in order to stimulate spontaneous use. Spatial organisation may influence the level of social control, which in turn may constitute a determining factor for pro-environment behaviour. References Biel, Anders (2003): “Environmental Behaviour: Changing Habits in a Social Context”, in Biel, Anders; Bengt Hansson & Mona Mårtensson (eds): Individual and Structural Determinants of Environmental Practice, Ashgate Studies in Environmental Policy and Practice, p 11-24 p. BIG-gruppen (1982): Det lilla kollektivhuset. En modell för praktisk tillämpning, Stockholm: Byggforskningsrådet T14:1982. Downey, Jillian & Elph Morgan (eds, 2000): Community Directory. A Guide to Intentional Communities and Cooperative Living, 2000 edition, Rutledge: Fellowship for Intentional Community. FIC (2004), Fellowship for Intentional Community, Lanne, Lotta (2004): (list of eco-villages in Sweden). Lundgren, Lars (1999): “Changing lifestyle: desires and opportunities”, in Lundgren, Lars (ed): Changing Environmental Behaviour, Stockholm: Swedish Environmental Protection Agency et al, 1999, p 9-37. McCamant, Kathryn and Charles Durrett (1988): Cohousing - A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, Berkeley, California: Habitat Press/Ten Speed Press. 4
  5. 5. Meltzer, Graham (2000): “Cohousing: Verifying the Importance of Community in the Application of Environmentalism”, in Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, Vol 17, No 2 (Summer, 2000), p 110-132. Paiss, Zev (2000): ”The Desire for Diversity. A Cohousing Perspective”, in Downey, Jillian & Elph Morgan (eds): Community Directory. A Guide to Intentional Communities and Cooperative Living, 2000 edition, Rutledge: Fellowship for Intentional Community, p 141-142. Palm Lindén, Karin (1999): “The living environment, ecology and daily life: a study of two eco- villages”, in Lundgren, Lars (ed): Changing Environmental Behaviour, Stockholm: Swedish Environment Protection Agency et al. Pedersen, Britt (1991): Kollektivhuset Stolplyckan. Från idé till verklighet (”The Stolplyckan Collective House. From idea to reality”), Stockholm: Byggforskningsrådet T24:1991. Sanne, Christer (1986): Ett Göteborg mindre. Om bostadspolitik och samhällsförändring (One Göteborg less. On housing policy and social charge) Stockholm: Byggforskningsrådet T18:1986. Svane, Örjan (2002): Nordic Households and Sustainable Housing, Nordic Council of Ministers, TemaNord 2002:523. Vestbro, Dick Urban (1992): "From Central Kitchen to Community Cooperation: Development of Collective Housing in Sweden", in Open House International, Vol 17, No 2, p 30-38. Vestbro, Dick Urban (2000):“From Collective Housing to Cohousing – A Summary of Research”, Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, Vol 17:2. Vestbro, Dick Urban (2009): History of Cohousing – Internationally and in Sweden, Kollektivhus NU, Woodward, Alison (1989): "Communal Housing in Sweden. A Remedy for the Stress of Everyday Life?", in Franck, Karen & Sherry Ahrentzen (eds, 1989): New Households, New Housing, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, p 71-94. Woodward, Alison; Dick Urban Vestbro & Maj-Britt Grossman (1989): Den nya generationen kollektivhus. Experiment med social integration, förvaltning och rumsutformning (The new generation of collective housing. Experiments with social integration, house administration and spatial design), Stockholm: Swedish Council of Building Research T16:1989. 5