The Living Lab
With the growing influx of seniors, the community reliance and social cohesion in housing corporations neighbourhoods are declining. As more and more people require support and care, and fewer residents are able to assist their fellow residents, this leads to increased social vulnerability and loneliness. A living environment that encourages interactions between residents and promotes social cohesion and community reliance can help people to live independently in a pleasant way for a longer period of time. In response to this, WoonZorg Nederland, a housing corporation in the Netherlands, is developing new housing concepts that stimulate encounters and community reliance among residents. The question is whether these housing concepts succeed in this and how these housing concepts can best be designed spatially and socially.
The objective is to understand how these collective housing forms can be designed spatially and socially in order to promote social cohesion and community reliance among residents. The result of the research will be (design)guidelines and strategies for communal living for seniors in the social rental sector. We will focus particularly on the spatial and technological design of the housing form, but always in relation to the composition of the resident group and the way in which residents organize life in the living community.
In the research, we will collaborate with staff from Woonzorg Nederland who are involved in developing housing formulas for suitable communal living arrangements for seniors in the social rental sector. We will employ a variety of research methods, including qualitative methods such as participant observation, semi-structured in-depth interviews and photovoice to evaluate the benefits, challenges and risks associated with communal living. With the photovoice method, residents’ experiences, memories, and emotions are directly linked to the spatial and social design of the living environment.
In addition, we will also conduct an evaluative research by analysing real estate data from the housing corporation and survey data collected from staff and residents. This will enable us to identify variations of communcal living within the housing stock of Woonzorg Nederland, based on relevant spatial and organizational variables. For instance, we will use an exploratory cluster analysis to examine the spatial design of living and co-living arrangements, and how residents are involved in the organization of the housing form and composition of the resident group. We will also investigate the impact of these different variants on the interaction between residents, community building and community reliance.
The outcome so far
The research has shown that the living space should not only provide opportunities for planned activities, but also foster opportunities for unplanned interactions between residents. These spontaneous encounters are crucial for building familiarity and relationships with the entire community of residents.
Additionally, ownership and self-organization among residents are vital for creating a sense of engagement and participation among residents. However, this engagement can also lead to increased conflicts and tension among residents as individuals have different opinions and expectations when working and organizing together. It is evident that the creation of a sense of community does not happen organically, but is the outcome of a combination of social, spatial, and organizational factors.