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Can sharing resources be a way forward in the quest for more sufficiency of the housing sector? Observations from two novel housing constellations
Compared to other sectors such as power markets, housing is a rather stable business sector with mostly piecemeal and technical innovations. Increasingly tighter energy performance standards have made new buildings more efficient (measured as kWh/m2/a) compared to preceding building generations. However, ‘expansive’ societal trends such as increasing average floor spaces per person, rising indoor temperature levels and a growing number of electric devices in households have counteracted efficiency gains. Leaving energy aside, the housing sector’s relentless appetite for land and associated biodiversity losses are other warning signs that the housing sector must change more fundamentally to become more sustainable. Against this background, my contribution addresses one promising way forward, which is to foster sharing practices in neighbourhoods. Historically, the sharing of resources between neighbours, be it spaces (e.g. guest rooms, community rooms, craft rooms, and gardens), stuff (tools, devices, appliances) or mobility services (car and bike sharing, carpooling), has been practiced in self-organised cohousing communities. However, research has shown that the engagement in such communities presents a time-intensive and sometimes tiresome commitment for neighbours, which clearly has limited the diffusion of this housing form beyond the scope of a micro niche. In my contribution, I present two novel housing constellations, which have the potential to overcome those limits and “normalize” the sharing of spaces (e.g. guest rooms, community rooms), stuff (tools, appliances), food or mobility (car and bike sharing, carpooling). First, in “co-production cases” resident groups collaborate with housing companies, municipalities, civic associations, and other actors to co-design and co-manage possibilities for sharing resources. Second, in “service-based cases” real estate developers provide opportunities for sharing, mostly in high-rise buildings with several hundred dwellings. Here, the central idea is to offer sharing services and facilities that make life more easy and convenient than it is possible in conventional housing. My work is informed from four case studies in Germany and France, covering both aforementioned constellations. Following insights from Social Practice Theory and applying a mixed methods approach (interviews, diaries, focus groups, participatory observation), I am interested in the every-day practicability of sharing, which in the end is decisive for the normalisation of practice innovations. Thus, my work investigates practice configurations, the intensities and frequencies of sharing practices, and their integration into wider “practice bundles” of everyday life. Preliminary results show overall higher frequencies and intensities of sharing practices in the co-production cases than in the service-based type. In the service-based type, spontaneous, low-coordinative activities such as socialising with other residents in hang out spaces seem to work well, while residents in co-production cases engage also in more time-intensive practices, which require more planning and coordination, such as shared meals. This is possibly due to residents’ diverging life stages: the service-based type attracts mostly young, highly mobile people with very flexible life organisation, whereas the coproduction type displays many families with more repetitive and routinized sequences of activities. Hence, both housing constellations may have their role to play in future housing markets, if targeting different social groups.