Essay:
Keeping Up Appearances
“The question arises: Can you ever really manufacture community?”

  • Words Allyssia Alleyne

Community is just a direct debit away. At a time when we are increasingly detached from one another (a 2015 study found only 13% of Brits aged 25 to 39 knew the names of their five closest neighbors), a glut of premium spaces have emerged that count connection and collaboration among their amenities—from coworking spaces and co-living complexes to members’ clubs and lifestyle hotels. Buy in and you’re not just gaining access to a space: You’re getting the chance to be a part of something bigger. 

In these spaces, it’s assumed, you’ll find people with similar interests, values and backgrounds. You’ll work, drink or go to gong baths together. However, a skepticism seems to follow. On a company homepage or investor deck, “community”—like “identity” or “family” can seem like another pillar of private life, appropriated and commodified.

The question arises: Can you ever really manufacture community? Consider, for example, an internal WeWork study titled Are O...

( 1 ) According to the book The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion, when WeWork staff heard the call “Activate the space” during visits by investors, they would make the coworking space look as if it was full by pretending to be members.

( 2 ) One example of Assemble's work is the Granby Winter Garden, which saw the transformation of two derelict row houses in a declining area of Liverpool. The indoor garden they created in the shell of the two buildings is freely accessible to local residents and the wider neighborhood.

( 3 ) OSCA is entirely separate from Oberlin College, but all OSCA member-owners are Oberlin College students. Members are responsible for almost every task, including cooking, cleaning, purchasing food, scheduling work charts, enforcing food safety, sitting on the board of directors and more.

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