The changing values and spending habits of millennials have been driving the emergence of a collaborative or sharing economy for years. Accommodation, rides, cars, work space, products and services are all being consumed on an “access-not-ownership” basis.
Twenty five per cent of Canadians have used emerging sharing services such as Airbnb and Uber in the past twelve months; 48 per cent of these “neo-sharers” are between the age of 18 to 34.
With the first-time-buyer generation leading the trend, condo developers are incorporating sharing features into developments in a bid to entice young, seasoned collaborators.
“Millennials aren’t looking for a lifestyle that revolves around a car,” says Robert Duteau, senior vice-president of development at Grosvenor Calgary, “but that doesn’t mean they don’t want a car sometimes.”
Grosvenor’s latest Calgary development under construction, Smith in Beltline, will feature an inventory of bikes for residents to use, a tool library and shared spaces for work and socialising.
“Beltline is a young, urban community; the average age is just 33,” Mr. Duteau says. “The generation buying property there now is one that’s immersed in social media, committed to sharing their lives with those around them and to whom collaboration is second nature. It makes sense for us to be meeting their needs with the things that are important to them.”
Twenty-three-year-old accountant Anna Mackay purchased one of Smith’s one-bedroom condos last year. The sharing facilities were one of the features which attracted her to the property, along with a keen price.
“Location was a big thing for me, I wanted to be right downtown, which means living in a smaller space, with no garage or basement, so sharing things like bikes and tools is practical.”
Ms. Mackay, who has used peer-to-peer vacation rental sites in the past, plans to sell her car and use Car2Go when she takes ownership of the property in 2017. “I like the idea of being able to use a car when I want but not having the financial commitment. If we had Uber in Calgary, I’d definitely use that, too.”
But it isn’t just commodities and services that buyers such as Ms. Mackay are looking for shared access to; they’re also looking for shared experiences and projects.
Calgary’s East Village offers residents a variety of shared social experiences such as a resident’s running club and an official on-site blogger to share the East Village living experience, as it happens. But it’s the community garden plots and communal gardening tool shed that have been receiving most interest.
“We’ve had a community garden for a few years,” says Susan Veres, senior vice-president of strategy and business development at Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, “but we’ve always had more interest than plots, which is why we’re opening a new site in spring which will have more than double the plots available.”
Ms. Veres says Knightsbridge Homes’ N3, Calgary’s first parking-free condo development which sold out in two weeks, changed traditional thinking around developments in Calgary – but it wasn’t without it’s challenges.
“Knightsbridge really researched and interrogated the local millennial market to position N3 correctly. We knew it would be a success because the buyers had already told us that’s what they wanted; car-free living but access to transport including car share. Convincing the City to approve the plan wasn’t easy. It took six or seven months, people were sceptical.”
Having proved the appetite for the lifestyle, Knightsbridge is now considering what to do with its second site. Ms. Veres is hopeful they’ll once again push the boundaries. “We need more of that kind of innovation in this city for sure.”
Innovation is rapidly emerging in other parts of North America with businesses such as Common, a membership-based New York startup which launched a year ago and provides affordable, shared inner-city living spaces for likeminded individuals.
This month they announced their first ground-up development in Brooklyn. Collaborative work-space startup WeWork is rumoured to be launching a competition, WeLive, later this year.
“There’s an emerging need for housing that comes with a sense of community and a level of convenience,” says Brad Hargreaves, founder and CEO of Common.
Mr. Duteau believes this model would be a step too far for Calgary.
“I think that’s a model born out of necessity in certain cities. I’m not sure if it’s something that would ever work in Calgary.”
Mr. Hargreaves doesn’t agree. “Our members aren’t moving in because they couldn’t find housing anywhere else. There are cheaper sharing options on Craigslist, even in New York. They’re choosing Common because that’s the experience they want; we provide furniture, cleaning, laundry, social events like potluck dinners and book clubs. It’s what many millennials are looking for but it’s not just a demographic, it’s a mindset.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Alex Cheng has lived in Common’s Albany location since graduating from the University of British Columbia and moving to New York State for work earlier this year. After living in a communal graduate residence, she was actively looking for a shared living arrangement.
“I absolutely hate being alone. I can’t think of anything worse. Living here means I’m never alone, it’s awesome.”
Ms. Cheng doesn’t see herself leaving the Common community any time soon and has no problem with the lack of ownership in her life.
“I love that we share facilities and commodities. We don’t all need an oven for example. You don’t use an oven 24/7. And, because we share one, we often end up cooking together, which is really fun.”
Mr. Hargreaves sees no reason why Common wouldn’t work in cities such as Toronto, Vancouver or even Calgary. Last year, Common raised $7.35-million (U.S.) in Series A funding to support expansion. Mr. Hargreaves is also considering other innovations to his business model.
“Adding an ownership element to Common is something we’ve considered; allowing members to buy a segment of Common as an investment, but retain the shared facilities and community aspect.”
A move such as this could bridge an important gap between access and ownership, making it an appealing option for a whole new market.
But for now, Ms. Mackay agrees that while access to practical amenities is a selling point, ownership of the property itself is important to her.
“I think my generation is less concerned with ownership to an extent, but for me buying a property was still a goal I wanted to achieve. If I can save money with shared features, that’s great.”
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