Communal Living Panel Discussion

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Recently we hosted a Panel discussion on the different forms of communal living in Berlin; with speakers from various projects in Berlin; Our aim was to hear different perspective and to learn from one another.

Our Panel speakers were :

- Naima Ritter, co-founder of Conscious Coliving Consultancy

- Natalia Irina Roman, city researcher / curator / installation artist, from Projekthaus Potsdam: www.nataliairinaroman.eu & www.facebook.com/sitespecificideas

- Rabea, woodworker building Tiny Houses. Part of Tiny House Community in Berlin Weißensee.

- Tobias Brockmann, co-founder of Happy Pigeons coliving and Forever Day one

Moderated by Thomas Hohmeier- Bauingenieur/civil engineer, Architect student and board memeber “ORWOhaus e.V.”

Plus a lovely audience from other communal living projects, neighbors, and interested people in general.

Obviously this is a diverse Panel, each project/ community has different, yet similar, intentions, reasons and challenges, However all of them agree on choosing communal living as a way of life whether for long or short term and exchanging views was very interesting to see.

Below is a summary for the long discussion, special thanks for Juan Ortiz and Katrin Häuser for sharing their notes on the discussion which helped me in compiling this post.

Brief Introductions

Tobias from Happy Pigeons :

Tobi started Happy Pigeons focusing on putting the community first, Happy Pigeons are staying consciously small to build an actual community where relationships are being formed organically and then could scale gradually.

On the other hand, He works also as a consultant on the future of living working and from his side he can see that a lot of investors and big companies are getting interested in “coliving”, for profitability reasons normally, However they are slowly understanding the importance of the community.For him having a job that combines both sides helps him seeing different perspectives.

Naima from Conscious coliving:

Conscious Coliving began with a lot of research out of the concern of our disconnection from ourselves, from others, and from nature. They developed a manifesto with “connection” at its center with 3 main sectors ( oneself – wellbeing, Others – Community, and Nature – Environmental sustainability ), then started supporting others and offering other services as well; Currently they are running meetups on the various aspects on conscious coliving while listening and learning from others as well.

Natalia from Projekthaus Potsdam:

Natalia is a city researcher / curator / installation artist, she lives in between two cohousing projects, or in other words in the S-bahn, one in Moabit and another in Potsdam or in “Berlin zone C”, both are self organized and designed for long term living.

Both are cohousing projects with a bit of a contrast with Moabit being more private and Potsdam being more open to the public and aims more to integrate in the neighborhood.

Rabea from Tiny House community in Weißensee

Rabea builds Tiny houses and is one of the Tiny House community in Weißensee; The community is located near Mirbachplatzt where they are allowed to use the space till 2020 for now, Currently there are 4 Tiny houses, a public kitchen and a communal Eco Toilet, They open their doors to the public during several events and festivals.

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Main Reasons for living Communally


According to Naima, main reasons/ motives for people to live communally are:

  • Crises of loneliness

  • Housing crises where many people can't afford paying the rising rent in Cities; Looking for solutions where sharing is cheaper.

  • Late Marriage; people getting married and having kids later, so looking for this “family model” outside of the family, [ Also the modern model of relationships are based on the premise of finding one person to meet all your needs for the rest of your life while some of these different needs were filled by the social interactions in communities ]

  • Sharing economy, and valuing experience much more materialistic gains

Natalia mentioned that,based on her experience, this is happening across a very wide spectrum; people who live communally come from very diverse backgrounds, However it is always misrepresented some how, that they are all artists or students or political-left oriented, but in reality this is not true.

Naima summed it up into the 3 Cs; Connection, Convenience and Collaboration.

Connection:

As humans we are social animals, we are wired for connections, for most of the human evolution ( 99%) we lived in tribes, only recently we started living individually and working with people you don't share values with.

Collaboration :

Without romanticizing the past, but historically people used to make stuff together, build houses, make food, work on shared interest and project together. Nowadays we are mostly consumers; paying for everything that was formally a collaborative effort.

Convenience:

Which is needed in our daily life, from finding people to help with the kids, or borrowing some sugar or eggs for cooking, to the different utilities needed for modern urban life, whether being provided by a self-organized community or with a management body/ company

Tobi added that for him building the frame for this to happen is what he finds interesting; putting people in the same space, People who normally don't get a chance to meet, and sparking this friction for creativity, collaboration and building meaningful relationships is a big part of his personal motivation.

He added that sometimes in special projects, coliving comes as a side effect, in innovative Projects like H-Farm or the Camp focusing on solving the worlds challenging problems, located in a bit remote areas, coliving comes as side effect from bringing different people to live and work together for a period of time, and this brings the experience to another level, to something more than just work.


Moving on to a bit open discussion in between the 4 speakers, where they discussed the different scales, potential, common praxis in self organizing, and challenges.

Tobi explained that usually in a small community like Happy Pigeons, they are trying to set the bar for everyone to contribute, although as a company they take care of all utilities they are still leaving space for the community to add their own activities. One strategy is to include part of current community in the selection process of new members, this way the new ones get easily onboard and the old ones get more involved in shaping the whole community.

Natalia explained that in Moabit cohousing which is more stable, they meet once a month but in Project Potsdam, the community meets twice a month as there are more work to be done. In Moabit it is mandatory for every individual to work 3 hours a month for the community, and In Potsdam it is of course more than this but people are all engaged in the community.

For Rabea living in a small Tiny houses community doesn't require a lot of organizational rules, people seem to get a long and they have no need for writing rules. They face some normal struggle though because of the water and toilet situation but people get used to it, Sometimes people don't respect the privacy of a Tiny house but this is also manageable. It is just like living on an urban island.


Natalia mentioned that her struggle is different, usually there are individual challenges and collective ones. Individually, one needs to find a balance between their usual daily life and the cohousing community work. Collectively, making decisions is hard one and needs long discussions from everyone in order to get out with a decision that is fine with everyone.

Challenges vary in scale as well, a group can take a year to decide on a colour for the Kitchen walls but fixing the roof before winter needs a quick decision.

They all agreed that there is no recipe for self organization and collective decision making, However Project House Potsdam follows a nice strategy in collective decision making which includes dividing the objections/ commentaries into degrees and asking people to voice them out loud to the group, starting from having a veto ( completely against this decision ) to having harsh comments or bad worries, to middle and light worries. This helps the group to reflect, compromise and reach a decision easily.


Naima added some Macro-scale challenges that faces communal living projects such as :

  • Finding Land; finding or building the right buildings in urban areas is extremely difficult, finding remote spaces is nice to connect with nature but not convenient for city work life.

  • Policy regulations; some cities have harsh zoning rules which was not designed to serve communal living to begin with. Building Public- Private partnership could be a way to go to solve such a challenge.

  • Gentrification; it is very tricky issue and needs not to be ignored, solving these conflicts within different neighborhoods is needed.

  • [Lack of] Public engagement; ecosystem mapping and participatory planning are ways to ensure the public good and to create cultural value.

  • Conflict management; this differs from a space to another but generally having better communication and clearly defined roles always helps in resolving conflicts.

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To sum up, Communal living is getting much attraction nowadays, also big investments are pouring in especially in the coliving market, but the question is still open, how we can live consciously together in a communal way.


Some answers were given during the discussion, some more questions appeared, whether we invest our time and effort in designing the frame or infrastructure for human interaction and collaboration, or use different self organizing techniques in our decision making processes, or being open to the public and contribute to the public good, or going for a public private partnership to bring social and cultural value to different neighborhoods, or just work it out with a small community for a temporary basis, or build an environmentally sustainable community without gentrifying the hosting neighborhood, all are bits and pieces from the way which we are discovering together.


As Happy Pigeons we are learning, we are starting new approaches for our own self-organization process based on the last discussion, we will join the next meetups by conscious coliving to learn more from others and share our experience and we are open to collaborate with others in order to enrich ourselves and our community.