What if digital platforms changed the way we live, building stronger community ties?
Since becoming an early adopter of Citizens’ Agency’s new platform for gig economy workers, Omar’s work life has become a lot less fraught. Taking five minutes in the morning to look out the window as he drinks his coffee, he’s pleased to see that the new homes across the way from him are nearing completion. Made with frames produced at the fab lab down the road, the new buildings will provide homes for sixty people in the same conditions as him: low cost, high quality places to live in a thriving community environment.
Omar has been living in the community, called Pamilya, for two years, but it was founded four years ago by a group of housing activists who wanted to counteract the failures of the commercial housing market. New rent control legislation made the private sector more tolerable for those who couldn’t afford to buy their own home, but many people were still putting sizeable portions of their income into the pockets of private landlords. The housing co-op was developed on a derelict site, with the aim to provide low rents, to invest profits back into more low-cost housing, and to create environmentally and socially sustainable communities.
Pamilya is founded on principles of equality and diversity, housing a mixture of students and young people, families, single mothers and older people. Most older people live independently, knowing that they can rely on the support and care of their neighbours day-to-day. Pamilya prioritises vulnerable groups on its waiting list, particularly LGBTQ+ young people, people with disabilities and unemployed people. Waving to his newest neighbours through the window, a young couple who have recently fled Iran, he proudly recalls Pamilya’s commitment to taking in new refugee families every year.
The community functions thanks to the contributions of all its members. Because Omar is not working today, he will be doing five hours of community work. There are a mixture of tasks to do: from gardening and general maintenance of communal spaces to cooking in the communal kitchen. A collaborative platform allows all members to upload tasks which need doing, lets members vote on which to prioritise, and enables individuals to take on tasks individually or by forming small groups.
Today, Omar and Katerina will be maintaining the community’s shared bikes and tidying up the bicycle repair workshop. Normally a couple of young people will join them too, so they can pass on their expertise as well as make use of some additional helping hands. When they don’t have collective tasks to do, community members also put time into the online community time bank, which makes it easy to share tasks like cooking, childcare or elderly care.
As it’s a sunny day, they bring the bikes they’re working on out into the central communal space. Here, six or seven people are digging over the shared garden to prepare for spring planting. They use open-source seeds and permaculture methods to get a good crop of vegetables with as little environmental impact as possible. The food is shared among the community, often in communal meals. If there’s a glut, the community restaurant is always happy to take spare food off their hands.
There are a couple of new faces which Omar doesn’t recognise, so he steps over to introduce himself. The two young people are visiting from the other side of the ocean, and despite being tired from their trip are keen to pitch in and get to know the community. The two will be staying here for a week to work on their language skills.
They tell Omar how they booked their stay on an open-source homesharing platform used by communities across Europe. The platform allows people to list homes or individual bedrooms for a nominal fee if they go away, and encourages intercultural exchange over profit. Community members voted to allow the use of the platform in order to allow as many people as possible to experience community living. However, they strictly limit the prices individuals can charge to maintain the spirit of the community.
Having made his introductions, Omar returns to the bike repairs. Katerina invites them to borrow bikes in the afternoon so they can explore the city. She encourages them to wear their AR glasses as they ride, so they can be guided through the network of virtual bike lanes which cover the city.