The final article in the excellent series on the “sharing economy”, in B.C.’s must-read online newsmagazine The Tyee, focuses on the social, economic and environmental promise of co-housing. The conclusion: living together is not just for hippies anymore. 

As kibbutzniks know, sharing accommodation and other resources in a so-called “intentional community” (an odd phrase, as it implies the rest of us live in an “un-intentional community”, which I suppose is often true) makes a lot of sense, both for personal savings and ecological impact. North Americans’ hunger for bigger houses in car-centric suburban locales has turned us into environmental dinosaurs, gobbling up the planet’s resources even as we stumble blindly toward the extinction of this lifestyle in the coming age of peak oil. (To say nothing of the oil on our collective hands from the current eco-catastrophe along the coast of Louisiana thanks to our “drill, baby drill!” appetite for a high-carbon diet.)

Learning to live together might mean learning to live more lightly on the earth. Much of the current recession, set in motion by bankers’ greedy schemes of subprime mortgages, can be linked to the collective “house lust” of North Americans, in which realty began to bear little resemblance to reality, as the Tyee article makes clear:

When the U.S. housing bubble burst in 2006, entire planned neighborhoods went bankrupt, rows of McMansions were unoccupied, sidewalks ended in the middle of fields, blue-collar investors left owing millions to banks that had no business loaning them the money in the first place.

What these investors, developers, and banks lacked was a sense of community, a view of the home’s primacy as a social space rather than a commodity. It’s a bit obvious to say that the real estate bust was fostered by those who cared only for the value of a house rather than the value of a home, but it wasn’t obvious enough to the hordes who bought into the pyramid and then were surprised to find themselves crushed by the weight of the bricks.

Living in a co-housing situation, like living in a kibbutz, takes some adjustment and isn’t for every personality. But the potential good of this “sharing economy” (a hopeful phrase I’ve come to like) is powerful:

Accountability lies at the heart of shared living systems, just as it lies at the heart of our environmental issues, the need for each of us to recognize we are citizens of a larger community. Intentional communities stress the responsibilities and benefits of shared living in the same breath, a seemingly instinctual (and often seemingly forgotten) recognition that working for the community pays off double for the individual, both in short-term gains (such as being able to leave your sick child in trusted hands when you go to work) and long-term solutions (such as the dramatic environmental benefits of shared living).

For some, though, the opportunity to connect with others may be reason enough. As [one resident] admits, “I just like having people to say hi to when I come home.”