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.