Coliving Spaces For Adults Are Becoming More Popular — But Will They Solve Millennials' Problems?

Are you tired of paying more than you'd like for more apartment space than you really need? Looking for an instant way to make friends? If so, there's a trend upon us of small coliving apartments for adults clustered together with common dorm-like spaces, and it might be for you. With formal coliving arrangements cropping up in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, and more, the coliving model may eventually hold appeal for younger adults nationwide. Part dorm, part commune, and part coworking space, perhaps the coliving phenomenon is just what this generation needs.

Coliving and other types of non-totally-independent residences won't be for everyone, of course. Although it might not be sustainable, the amount of living space per person doubled over the last 40 years in the United States, and the reasons people wanted it are obvious. A bigger home may put you further away from other people physically in many cases, but it puts other possibilities within reach: entertaining, space for your hobbies, garage spots for another car, storage space for a lifetime's worth of clothing. But if those things aren't important to you, maybe what coliving offers — simplicity and community — is.

For those who are even interested in them, the real question is whether the type of social scene that coliving encourages is even good. Though millennials definitely have some dating and friend deficiencies to grapple with, I'm not so sure that returning to a forced, structured environment is the answer. After a taste of expensive and lonely adulthood, it's easy to feel a little too nostalgic for dorm life — do you even remember the peer pressure, interpersonal drama, entangled romantic scenarios, and sense of literally constant, semi-mandatory socializing?!

If coliving communities are curated by common interests, then that's promising. But they could also end up being commercially run with no real goals other than to put warm bodies in the cubby-like spaces. An upcoming Syracuse, New York coliving space, Commonspace, promises a vague sounding "social engineer" to make its residents get along and enjoy each others' company. However, at the end of the day, I'm skeptical that any number of community bulletin boards, social media integrations, and internal Slack messaging channels can accomplish this goal.

We shouldn't be too pessimistic about fundamental household change which, after all, has happened many times before. But the particular upsides and downsides of coliving remain to be seen in practice (regulatory issues making many microunits and shared arrangements illegal notwithstanding). Ironically, it may be the case that coliving causes millennials to become even more mobile and transitory than they already are — in theory, small and inexpensive furnished rentals smooth the process of hopping from city to city as much as they encourage new community members to stay put. Or maybe millennials will like coliving so much that they delay marriages and children even further. We shall see.

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