Simonedb's picture
Co-living in Milan

The Challenge: 

The Question: 

Improve quality of living thanks to better relation and house organization (private scoial are actions)

The Problem: 

Cost of living is high, lonelyness in metropolies, care of younger and elderly, good relatiosnhips hard to find, little sense of belonging

The Solution: 

co housing - gives more value for money in terms of spaces (shared spaces), mutual help, reduce cost (group purchase/sgaring)

Channels: 

Since summer 2009, 30 families started living together in the first “official” co-housing in a periferic neighborhood in Milan, and probably of whole Italy. To my knowledge, the phenomenon has been often recorded by the Media (radio, tv, magazines and newspapers) and Polytechnic of Milan (Ph.D. and Master dissertations) as a first and original case. For some months and years, people liked to come and visit, check, make interviews about an experience that, in those years, sounded strongly innovative and now is consolidated. Some other co-living “residences” (but not many) of this kind have been promoted and started in the north of Italy and not only in Milan.

What made this so new? Italy has a long story of small communities, both in the countryside (above all in the agricultural areas) and in urban areas. And we were about 70 people who didn't know each other before, who didn't share any identity or common belonging and who decided that co-housing could be a very good way to live. We have a shared living with semi professional kitchen, a small garden in the center of the building, shared laundry, bike space and hobbies area, and a terrace with swimming pool.

It took almost two years (2007-2009) of co-creation and creating bonds between the members. Meanwhile, we've projected (thanks also to facilitators' support) some of the physical aspects of the building which allowed “personalization” by the community and facilitated the envisioning of a “way of living”. We agreed on some basic rules, attitudes, priorities and so on. Co-housing is about these two elements: the physical (spaces, objects, homes and shared areas) and relationships.

Where are we about 7 years later?

100 meetings +
countless B-Day parties and shared lunches and dinners, bbqs
4 kids +
3 cats +
the building is fixed
rules of living have been adjusted through the real life experience

group email and WhatsApp group still alive and working properly (communication is deep and useful to keep connection and support)

micro-welfare and mutual support include a lot of different situations (child care / homework/ vacations, home trouble fixing, information, shopping for the neighbor, shared purchases, savings, medical support, emergency support, skills sharing…)

still volunteering in groups (garden caring, swimming pool fixing, legal affairs, food purchase)

few people moved away but rented the house (just in case they come back)

an association created to manage share expenses and service and to deal with town council and other local associations

sharing knowledge and experiences (cooking course, dancing school, movies calendar, book presentations, pics competition/games, summer kids caring..)

opening up to local events, well known in the neighborhood, networking with local associations

Many aspects should be analyzed for a precise assessment, some are probably specific to this very situation, some can be generalized. Of course only general considerations should be done, a detailed story would be more interesting as we have passed through several phases which coincided with the local and historical events (for example, the economic crises affected some of the member families; the city of Milan has been evolving; the arrival of new members - children; the Expo 2015 in Milan hosted nearby us…). But that would be very long.

What I'd like to focus on instead is the startup, the real “lifestyle storming”, the community forming, the association phase, the community's opening up to the local area, the maturation phase, and the What’s Next?...

I can’t say everything we've done was perfect but surely many lessons have been taken.  

The “light community” has grown and changed adapted. At the beginning, we met very often to decide on things. We've probably put too  much relevance in fulfilling the physical needs, while we should have been looking for ways in which we can balance different speeds for those who  wanted to live this experience and adjust the levels of engagement… The preparation phase (2007-2009)  could not “prepare us” for the real thing.

The big point is the continuous discussion among people (meeting, email, “working” groups) which is the backbone of this lifestyle, but also takes time and energy. We did probably too much of it at the beginning.

Many difficulties have been fought together as we've been creating a big space, with many problems to be fixed (electricity, legal, walls, gardens, technological infrastructure..). The social project was on top of that. None of us was particularly aware of good planning.

The kids have been a strong “glue” among the family with kids and others, who became kind of uncles, grandpas or grandmas. And a topic of discussion for the other ones.

We had to come by with a legal framework to a situation unknown by Italian law (we had to govern it in the traditional way). The paid professional legal “administrator” has changed three times… It is hard for them to deal with a real counterpart with proposals and ideas for innovation.

The usage of shared spaces, or of the mailing list, have changed through the time as we understood our needs in by practice.

The opening up phase is probably one of the most interesting, as we tried to have our living room used by visitors. We have also created an association to manage the shared expenses (like a food purchase group, eventually a car), but also to prepare a project for the small park in front of home together with other associations.

This was exactly the kind of situation that sociological literature likes to call a “gated community” . bu we never felt like that.  we started as a non-group, we have become a light community with different sensibilities and priorities, we've engaged with the neighborhood in several ways, we took part in local decision making, social action, and so on…

It is still difficult to take care of a community when everybody has its own life and duties, and probably some external help and supervision would have helped in moderating tension, in identifying new solutions... Goodwill is never enough.

We'd also gladly make use of a practical tool, perhaps a platform, to share materials, ideas, needs, etc. And being part of a bigger network to compare notes, support each other, share more, and maybe be connected with the town council infrastructure (cars, electricity, water, events, …)

Anyhow, both visitor and inhabitants of the place are still surprised by the aesthetic, the connection, the quality of living which is hugely superior to any normal flat experience in a city (and even in countryside) they experience here. And we are frequently asked if any apartment is on sale or for rent.

Comments

I recognise this story!

Noemi's picture

Wow @Simonedb it's been too long! I remember this experiment from back in the days when you shared on the first Edgeryders platform.

Alberto was telling me some time ago about a social housing project in Italy (maybe Milano?) where a complex of buildings is rented to poor families, and one of the units in each building is rented to the "community manager" tasked with working on social ties between people. Not sure about details, but it seems it's financed by Casa Depositi e Prestiti. Does your project have anything to do with it or better yet: do you see your project coming to influence social policies in Italy? It seems it's 8 years along the line and you guys seem to have great results to show as to what the future looks like.

we are informa group

Simonedb's picture

cassa depositi e prestiti operate usually on big projects 8its the finacial side of the government) together with fondazione cariplo.

 

we are a group of family living together...not suc support...

Many lessons learned

Alberto's picture

I have known about this project for years (I have even visited!), and really like the way you guys seem to have adjusted and improved your ways of living together. My own co-living experiment is much smaller, and much younger than yours... there is a lot to learn here. 

I just re-read The Book of Community by @lasindias (also a long-lasting co-living), and found it very rich in insights. Available for free in Spanish and English (can't find the link to the English version at the moment, but I have it). 

Cassa depositi e prestiti has a very large social-co-housing scheme on the road. We discussed getting involved with them, but they are being quite slow in making a decision. :-)

thjey are rebranding, re

Simonedb's picture

thjey are rebranding, re shaping strategy and muc more things..i deal with them for work purposes...but the chance here is get support of expereinces (good and bad) from families who knows what can mean to live like this without a religous/political/frienship previous shared background.

companies or big institutions can probaly leverage on stronge assessts for the real estate side but usually those managers have no idea of what living together can be in this way. 

external supervisor or facilitators can be one option but sure also they like of direct experience, rural communities or scout or this kind of experience has less chances to be useful to enhance a spread out co-living (and maybe also co-working projects)   

Can we connect with someone in there?

Noemi's picture

@Alberto do you think we can contact someone to learn from the other side, from a facilitator/ community manager involved in a social policy like this, but hear a personal experience nonetheless..? I think it would add nicely to Simone's story.

(I'm asking you because I see Simone has a lot of questions addressed below, so no need to load more.. :) 

So many questions

Woodbinehealth's picture

Thanks so much for sharing your story! Apologies in advance, this is pretty much all questions, I think we can learn a lot from your experience creating this form of housing and the way its changed over the years. I especially relate to and heed your advice about the too many meetings thing ;) . I’m curious to know more about the impetus for starting such a project, if as you say didn’t know each other and had no common identity or belonging, how did you find each other and make the decision together?  Also curious to know how it was initially funded, did you rent or buy a building and grow from there or did you build something new (the image with your post is a co-housing experiment I’m somewhat familiar with, is it related somehow?).

In regards “micro-welfare” and mutual support, have you communized your money or is there a separate fund that members pay into for these kinds of things? This is something we’ve been discussing for our group and haven’t figured out quite how to do it with the constraints of an economy like NYC. Have these things created a situation where people are able to work less or not at all? 

In regards the “gated community” comment and talking about how you interact with the greater neighborhood, I'm curious to know how you’ve navigated this and what your outwardly facing presence is like both in terms of your activity and the neighborhoods perception of your community.  If you work with local government/neighborhood councils, is this something you do out of necessity, as something that sees it as a tool but not a goal or does that participation have value to you in and of itself? I ask because we've gotten involved with local government at times, but we see it as purely strategic, we won't do anything with them that would require some kind of compromise because ultimately we are interested in autonomy from all forms of governance. We think of our outward facing projects as building a territory. In a place like nyc where creating one large place where many people can live together and actually spatially put their lives in common is not really possible, we have formed a network that is concentrated in a neighborhood but spreads across the whole city and connects with like minded hubs in the rest of the country. An important question we ask ourselves is how do we keep this open to all forms of life that would grow our power and we theirs. I would pose the same to your group, how do keep it from becoming an isolated, if enviable situation, which is not merely its own ends?  Would love to know if your model has the intention to put itself forth as a form that could be replicable, maybe it alreay does? If you have ways that you formally share your experiences with other groups so they might learn and begin to try these things for themselves in their particular regions? Would love to know more about any or all of these things.

 

really so many questions

Simonedb's picture

one big asnwer. i - we dont wanna say we are the best, we are the benchmakr. we failed a lot of times. becasue mainly co-living takes time and it is not a professional activity. this is not a community like organization that lives as a whole, it is the sum of families which tried to improve a better way of living in a light way. so no huge ambition was inside it, so i feel that everything that happen is like a miracle, even with all the troubles and limitation increased also by the economic crises that hit so many of us here.

the very very starting point was a private real estate project that used co-hpusing as amktg attractor, but then the community create and organised itself, even because the company disappered afterselling - here my comments abot hard to relie on biz people fo these kind, we should develop out own independent way to create this places, everybody bought home, no rent was possibile, but..why not.

microwelfare. we sill live in a "normal way"...but we share time, infromation, products,  skills, decision maing on shared purchases...anycase it is a light version of what you think.

we acted on single issues like local areas transformation together with other gourps, we hosted meeting people, activties of other assocaition and took aprt in them.

infromal relatioship with neightbour people/family also nice. we had a purchase group for quite a while

local government is burocratic-politics and slow, almost no budget...

also here we have many lesson learned also about mistakes.

 

other groups came here to get inspiration, infromation and advise about to form themself. few manged to do it. politecno of milan use us a good case to show what can be done as a minimum.

we had never had greater ambitions becasue it would need a lot of time..but with open and care some of us feel that we can finally give a stronger contribuition

 

Interesting

selene's picture

What an interesting project. I really don't know much about these kind of experinces but what I would really like to know is how people get in touch with you and how do they decide to become part of a community? Do they stay for a long time? Are there any children that grew up and then moved away? Do you get any financial help from the government?

 

Thank you!

Coming to town!

Noemi's picture

Hei @Simonedb, with @Alberto we're going to be in Milano end of the month - probably there on the 27th. I would love to come visit you at the house, or even meet up in the city, maybe a dinner with other community members? Let me know if you're free those days? Sunday 27th or afternoons during the week days (28, 29)? You know my email :P

Financials?

Nadia's picture

Ciao Simone,

something which would be helpful is information about one time costs and running costs involved for participants? How do they compare to regular market rates for purchasing property in Milano?

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