Ménage à trois cents: the rise of co-living in Paris

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L’Atelier de l’Arsenal includes co-working, co-living… and a public swimming pool.

by Matthew Lesniak

The current co-housing, or co-living trend is one of many alternatives to the housing crises that exist in almost every metropolitan area in the world. This shared living model is often managed by a startup or other type of service operator that provides a fully furnished communal living arrangement with private bedrooms, common areas, amenities and group activities. The rise of independent freelance workers – 35% of the American workforce are freelancers, 20-30% of active workers in France are independent and 9 million in Europe – contributes to this trend, as individuals are seeking more flexibility in their daily lives regarding where they live and work.

The profile of co-livers are often people who are in a transitory phase such as young professionals coming out of university or freelance entrepreneurs working for multiple clients in cities around the world who seek short to medium term housing offers (they’ve also been called “digital nomads”). Although this trend is prevalent among millennials, co-living is an offer that can appeal and cater to a much wider spectrum.

Co-living can be seen as the sharing economy’s response to housing: living as a service. As a service, it offers a range of all-inclusive amenities and experiences that people seek in different phases of their lives. It’s easy to see the appeal: such a model removes the hassles created by rigid rental agreements and strict landowners, facilitating access to housing for people who may in traditional real estate criteria “tick all the right boxes”.

But obviously, it’s not quite so perfect: the accessibility of co-living in terms of pricing is still not where it should be, to be affordable for a wider public. Most co-living spaces are more expensive than market prices, making already unaffordable housing even that much more inaccessible for many city dwellers.

Saying this, the future of housing and the co-living sector is becoming more focused on designing spaces that attempt to facilitate cross-generational and cross-cultural connections and collaborations, rather than simply providing housing offer for wealthy digital nomads. It is a model that is being integrated into current and future urban development projects and calls for proposals in major cities around the world.

Co-living developments are already taking root outside Paris, such as Art/Earth/Tech.

As a Paris-based member of PUREHOUSE LAB – a do-tank dedicated to informing and enabling the spread of the co-living phenomenon – I have witnessed and participated in these co-living models emerging in the French capital.

The city is a late bloomer when it comes to the co-living industry, but actors on all scales are finally entering the market. With various large-scale international competitions – such as Inventons la Métropole du Grand Paris and Reinventer la Seine – the Grand Paris municipality is working with French developers and local / international architect firms to propose hybrid co-living spaces in the central city and peripheral territories.

Just recently, French real estate developers REI Habitat and Icade, in partnership with French architect firm Laisné Roussel and New York designers SO-IL, have been selected as one of the winners of the Reinventer la Seine competition at the Place Mazas site. This site is located near Place de la Bastille on the crossing of Canal Saint Martin and the Seine River.

The multidisciplinary group has proposed a hybrid space dubbed L’Atelier de l’Arsenal, that includes co-working, fabrication labs, cultural and green spaces open to the public, social housing, co-living, food courts and waterfront activities along the Seine river, including a biodiversity research centre and a public swimming pool. Similarly, the Inventons la Métropole international competition launched last winter – which is a citywide competition in more than fifty sites in the agglomeration of Île de France – has over a dozen proposals that include a co-living element in the project.

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Paris’ Station F (the biggest startup campus in the world) will also launch a co-living hub housing 600 people

Despite these ambitions for large-scale hybrid co-living spaces, independent co-living operators are having trouble launching initiatives in the centre of Paris. Institutional barriers such as high market prices, hesitant landowners and investors unfamiliar with this new housing alternative, make launching co-living spaces difficult for Parisian startups like Colonies (who will be operating the Atelier de l’Arsenal co-living space) and Koalition.

The co-living market in Paris still seems to be in the hands of larger projects such as the new startup campus Station F (the biggest startup campus in the world), which will also launch a co-living hub in 2018, housing 600 entrepreneurs. The market seems to be evolving elsewhere in France, however; rural co-living spaces and shared living spaces that curate innovation and collaboration are being developed in the outskirts of Paris and in the south of France, such as La Mutinerie Village and Art/Earth/Tech outside of Paris, and thecamp in Provence and Lime in Biarritz.

French culture may be more hesitant to adopt the mindset needed to operate and live in co-housing developments. However, the efforts and ambitions that innovative actors are making to integrate accessible, affordable and hybrid shared living spaces into future development projects show that these new co-living spaces could become models for other projects around the world. And once the model is scaled up, prices will hopefully be far more accessible and inclusive.

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