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La Borda

Created on 04-06-2022 | Updated on 26-04-2023

La Borda is a housing cooperative, located in the neighbourhood of La Bordeta-Sants in Barcelona, a working-class neighbourhood with a long tradition of cooperatives. The plot is part of the former industrial estate of Can Batlló and was the outcome of a neighbourhood movement to reclaim the area and empower its social fabric. It is an experiment that emerged from local grassroots initiatives, to provide decent, non-speculative and long-term affordable housing with the active participation of the community, as well as to minimise environmental impact and energy consumption. Through a participatory process, the group worked together with local organisations, architects, and professionals to rethink the way they wanted to dwell, questioning the individualisation of living, and suggesting more communitarian forms. They produced new forms of coexistence, social bonds, and self-organization by promoting reciprocal relations and equality. The group aspired to create a scalable alternative in the social housing field by articulating a model of accessible housing for people with lower incomes. The property is characterised as social housing, as the group managed to achieve an agreement with the municipality, which owns the plot, for a 75-year leasehold. The legal framework under which the cooperative secures long-term affordability is called “grant of use”, prioritizing the use value instead of the exchange value, thus avoiding speculation.

Lacol cooperativa

Barcelona, Spain

Project (year)

Construction (year)

Housing type
cooperative houisng

Urban context
part of an old industrial site

Construction system
first floor with concrete and the next six with CLT



The housing crisis

After the crisis of 2008, it became obvious that the mainstream mechanisms for the provision of housing were failing to provide secure and affordable housing for many households, especially in the countries of the European south such as Spain. It is in this context that alternative forms emerged through social initiatives. La Borda is understood as an alternative form of housing provision and a tenancy form in the historical and geographical context of Catalonia. It follows mechanisms for the provision of housing that differ from predominant approaches, which have traditionally been the free market, with a for-profit and speculative role, and a very low percentage of public provision (Allen, 2006). It also constitutes a different tenure model, based on collective instead of private ownership, which is the prevailing form in southern Europe. As such, it encompasses the notions of community engagement, self-management, co-production and democratic decision-making at the core of the project.

Alternative forms of housing

In the context of Catalonia, housing cooperatives go back to the 1960s when they were promoted by the labour movement or by religious entities. During this period, housing cooperatives were mainly focused on promoting housing development, whether as private housing developers for their members or by facilitating the development of government-protected housing. In most cases, these cooperatives were dissolved once the promotion period ended, and the homes were sold.

Some of these still exist today, such as the “Cooperativa Obrera de Viviendas” in El Prat de Llobregat. However, this model of cooperativism is significantly different from the model of “grant of use”, as it was used mostly as an organizational form, with limited or non-existent involvement of the cooperative members.

It was only after the 2008 crisis, that new initiatives have arisen, that are linked to the grant-of-use model, such as co-housing or “masoveria urbana”.  The cooperative model of grant-of-use means that all residents are members of the cooperative, which owns the building. As members, they are the ones to make decisions about how it operates, including organisational, communitarian, legislative, and economic issues as well as issues concerning the building and its use. The fact that the members are not owners offers protection and provides for non-speculative development, while actions such as sub-letting or transfer of use are not possible. In the case that someone decides to leave, the flat returns to the cooperative which then decides on the new resident. This is a model that promotes long-term affordability as it prevents housing from being privatized using a condominium scheme. The grant -of -use model has a strong element of community participation, which is not always found in the other two models. International experiences were used as reference points, such as the Andel model from Denmark and the FUCVAM from Uruguay, according to the group (La Borda, 2020). However, Parés et al. (2021) believe that it is closer to the Almen model from Scandinavia, which implies collective ownership and rental, while the Andel is a co-ownership model, where the majority of its apartments have been sold to its user, thus going again back to the free-market stock.

In 2015, the city of Barcelona reached an agreement with La Borda and Princesa 49, allowing them to become the first two pilot projects to be constructed on public land with a 75-year leasehold. However, pioneering initiatives like Cal Cases (2004) and La Muralleta (1999) were launched earlier, even though they were located in peri-urban areas. The main difference is that in these cases the land was purchased by the cooperative, as there was no such legal framework at the time. This means that these projects are classified as Officially Protected Housing (Vivienda de Protección Oficial or VPO), and thus all the residents must comply with the criteria to be eligible for social housing, such as having a maximum income and not owning property. Also, since it is characterised as VPO there is a ceiling to the monthly fee to be charged for the use of the housing unit, thus keeping the housing accessible to groups with lower economic power. This makes this scheme a way to provide social housing with the active participation of the community, keeping the property public in the long term. After the agreed period, the plot will return to the municipality, or a new agreement should be signed with the cooperative.

The neighbourhood movement

In 2011, a group of neighbours occupied one of the abandoned industrial buildings in the old industrial state of Can Batlló in response to an urban renewal project, with the intention of preserving the site's memory (Can Batlló, 2020; Girbés-Peco et al., 2020). The neighbourhood movement known as "Recuperem Can Batlló" sought to explore alternative solutions to the housing crisis of the time. The project started in 2012, after a series of informal meetings with an initial group of 15 people who were already active in the neighbourhood, including members of the architectural cooperative Lacol, members of the labour cooperative La Ciutat Invisible, members of the association Sostre Civic and people from local civic associations. After a long process of public participation, where the potential uses of the site were discussed, they decided to begin a self-managed and self-promotion process to create La Borda. In 2014 they legally formed a residents’ cooperative and after a long process of negotiation with the city council, they obtained a lease for the use of the land for 75 years in exchange for an annual fee. At that time, the group expanded, and it went from 15 members to 45. After another two years of work, construction started in 2017 and the first residents moved in the following year.

The participatory process

The word “participation” is sometimes used as a buzzword, where it refers to processes of consultation or manipulation of participants to legitimise decisions, leading it to become an empty signifier. However, by identifying the hierarchies that such processes entail, we can identify higher levels of participation, that are based on horizontality, reciprocity, and mutual respect. In such processes, participants not only have equal status in decision-making, but are also able to take control and self-manage the whole process. This was the case with La Borda, a project that followed a democratic participation process, self-development, and self-management. An important element was also the transdisciplinary collaboration between the neighbours, the architects, the support entities and the professionals from the social economy sector who shared similar ideals and values.                   

According to Avilla-Royo et al. (2021), greater involvement and agency of dwellers throughout the lifetime of a project is a key characteristic of the cooperative housing movement in Barcelona. In that way, the group collectively discussed, imagined, and developed the housing environment that best covered their needs in typological, material, economic or managerial terms. The group of 45 people was divided into different working committees to discuss the diverse topics that were part of the housing scheme: architecture, cohabitation, economic model, legal policies, communication, and internal management. These committees formed the basis for a decision-making assembly. The committees would adapt to new needs as they arose throughout the process, for example, the “architectural” committee which was responsible for the building development, was converted into a “maintenance and self-building” committee once the building was inhabited. Apart from the specific committees, the general assembly is the place, where all the subgroups present and discuss their work. All adult members have to be part of a committee and meet every two weeks. The members’ involvement in the co-creation and management of the cooperative significantly reduced the costs and helped to create the social cohesion needed for such a project to succeed.

The building

After a series of workshops and discussions, the cooperative group together with architects and the rest of the team presented their conclusions on the needs of the dwellers and on the distribution of the private and communal spaces. A general strategy was to remove areas and functions from the private apartments and create bigger community spaces that could be enjoyed by everyone. As a result, 280 m2 of the total 2,950 m2 have been allocated for communal spaces, accounting for 10% of the entire built area. These spaces are placed around a central courtyard and include a community kitchen and dining room, a multipurpose room, a laundry room, a co-working space, two guest rooms, shared terraces, a small community garden, storage rooms, and bicycle parking. La Borda comprises 28 dwellings that are available in three different typologies of 40, 50 and 76 m2, catering to the needs of diverse households, including single adults, adult cohabitation, families, and single parents. The modular structure and grid system used in the construction of the dwellings offer the flexibility to modify their size in the future.

The construction of La Borda prioritized environmental sustainability and minimized embedded carbon. To achieve this, the foundation was laid as close to the surface as possible, with suspended flooring placed a meter above the ground to aid in insulation. Additionally, the building's structure utilized cross-laminated timber (CLT) from the second to the seventh floors, after the ground floor made of concrete. This choice of material had the advantage of being lightweight and low carbon. CLT was used for both the flooring and the foundation The construction prioritized the optimization of building solutions through the use of fewer materials to achieve the same purpose, while also incorporating recycled and recyclable materials and reusing waste. Furthermore, the cooperative used industrialized elements and applied waste management, separation, and monitoring. According to the members of the cooperative (LaCol, 2020b), an important element for minimizing the construction cost was the substitution of the underground parking, which was mandatory from the local legislation when you exceed a certain number of housing units, with overground parking for bicycles. La Borda was the first development that succeeded not only in being exempt from this legal requirement but also in convincing the municipality of Barcelona to change the legal framework so that new cooperative or social housing developments can obtain an “A” energy ranking without having to construct underground parking.

Energy performance goals focused on reducing energy demands through prioritizing passive strategies. This was pursued with the bioclimatic design of the building with the covered courtyard as an element that plays a central role, as it offers cross ventilation during the warm months and acts as a greenhouse during the cold months. Another passive strategy was enhanced insulation which exceeds the proposed regulation level. According to data that the cooperative published, the average energy consumption of electricity, DHW, and heating per square meter of La Borda’s dwellings is 20.25 kWh/m², which is 68% less, compared to a block of similar characteristics in the Mediterranean area, which is 62.61 kWh/m² (LaCol, 2020a). According to interviews with the residents, the building’s performance during the winter months is even better than what was predicted. Most of the apartments do not use the heating system, especially the ones that are facing south. However, the energy demands during the summer months are greater, as the passive cooling system is not very efficient due to the very high temperatures. Therefore, the group is now considering the installation of fans, air-conditioning, or an aerothermal installation that could provide a common solution for the whole building. Finally, the cooperative has recently installed solar panels to generate renewable energy.

Social impact and scalability

According to Cabré & Andrés (2018), La Borda was created in response to three contextual factors. Firstly, it was a reaction to the housing crisis which was particularly severe in Barcelona. Secondly, the emergence of cooperative movements focusing on affordable housing and social economies at that time drew attention to their importance in housing provision, both among citizens and policy-makers. Finally, the moment coincided with a strong neighbourhood movement around the urban renewal of the industrial site of Can Batlló. La Borda, as a bottom-up, self-initiated project, is not just an affordable housing cooperative but also an example of social innovation with multiple objectives beyond providing housing.

The group’s premise of a long-term leasehold was regarded as a novel way to tackle the housing crisis in Barcelona as well as a form of social innovation. The process that followed was innovative as the group had to co-create the project, which included the co-design and self-construction, the negotiation of the cession of land with the municipality, and the development of financial models for the project. Rather than being a niche project, the aim of La Borda is to promote integration with the neighbourhood. The creation of a committee to disseminate news and developments and the open days and lectures exemplify this mission. At the same time, they are actively aiming to scale up the model, offering support and knowledge to other groups. An example of this would be the two new cooperative housing projects set up by people that were on the waiting list for la Borda. Such actions lead to the creation of a strong network, where experiences and knowledge are shared, as well as resources.

The interest in alternative forms of access to housing has multiplied in recent years in Catalonia and as it is a relatively new phenomenon it is still in a process of experimentation. There are several support entities in the form of networks for the articulation of initiatives, intermediary organizations, or advisory platforms such as the cooperative Sostre Civic, the foundation La Dinamo, or initiatives such as the cooperative Ateneos, which were recently promoted by the government of Catalonia. These are also aimed at distributing knowledge and fostering a more inclusive and democratic cooperative housing movement. In the end, by fostering the community’s understanding of housing issues, and urban governance, and by seeking sustainable solutions, learning to resolve conflicts, negotiate and self-manage as well as developing mutual support networks and peer learning, these types of projects appear as both outcomes and as drivers of social transformation.

Alignment with project research areas

The project is relevant to RE-DWELL as it follows an innovative approach in relation to each of the three research areas: 1) Design, planning, and building, 2) Community participation and 3) Policy and financing.

In relation to “Design, planning and building”, one of the group's objectives was to promote a sustainable building model. The construction was designed in order to have a low environmental impact and to promote energy efficiency. The dwellers were involved in the decision-making of the building's energy performance, by evaluating their actions and living patterns. The building is understood as a totality made up of interrelated dwellings and households which demonstrates the importance of a more holistic vision, encompassing issues of social, environmental, and economic sustainability.

In relation to “Community participation", the project followed a robust participatory process throughout all the phases, from its initiation and research activities to decisions regarding the legal model, co-design of the building, final construction and management and maintenance. The project’s initiators used open assemblies as spaces for participation, where neighbours and local organisations could meet, exchange information, and make decisions together. Furthermore, the project fosters a community-oriented type of living, with common spaces, shared facilities, and a schedule for distributing everyday activities. The collectivisation of facilities and services fosters social values, such as mutual support. For example, residents share the tasks of childcare, preparing shared meals, gardening, cleaning of the common areas, and laundry equally among themselves.  This creates a sense of community and encourages mutual aid and cooperation among the residents.

Finally, with regard to "Policy and Financing", the project developed an innovative housing plan for the provision of affordable housing, which led to legislative change and pushed for new policies. The "grant of use" model was used to separate the use-value from the exchange value of the property, thus preventing speculation and advocating for different types of ownership that are secure and affordable in the long-term. Following the success of La Borda, the municipality of Barcelona implemented the same model on seven other plots, extrapolating the experiment. The project also developed a unique funding model, demonstrating an innovative approach by securing funding from the credit cooperative Coop57, which offered an alternative solution and overcame the traditional barriers and downgrades of obtaining funding from mainstream banking systems. However, as the credit cooperative was only able to lend a limited amount, the remaining cost was covered by alternative sources of funding, such as participatory bonds and voluntary contributions to the "social capital fund," which is the share capital fund of the cooperative.

Design, planning and building

Community participation

Policy and financing

* This diagram is for illustrative purposes only based on the author’s interpretation of the above case study

Alignment with SDGs

La Borda seems to be aligned with the following sustainable development goals (UN, 2020):

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

It has been manifested that there is a link between living in decent housing conditions and mental health and well-being. Intergenerational and communitarian housing schemes offer mutual support to their members, facilitating their everyday lives. 


Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

La Borda contributes to achieving this goal by recognizing and valuing the gender perspective and the work performed by women in the domestic space. The project aims to redistribute and collectivize everyday household activities, such as childcare, cooking, laundry, and others, which have traditionally been carried out by women. As a result, these activities are becoming more visible, taking place outside of private spaces, and being shared among all residents, providing opportunities for social interaction and community building.

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all

One of the goals of La Borda was to follow a sustainable development model, prioritizing renewable energy sources, and thus minimizing carbon emissions. To pursue a more energy-efficient solution in the housing sector, La Borda cooperative initially attempted to retrofit an existing vacant building in Can Batlló. However, this plan was abandoned as it required more time for its realization and at that point, quicker solutions were needed. Energy efficiency was achieved, firstly, by lowering the demand for energy consumption through passive strategies (the use of the covered courtyard as a micro-climate element, enhanced insulation, etc.) and secondly by combining renewable energy resources, such as solar panels, with non-renewable ones. The choice of the building materials also took the carbon footprint into consideration and natural and low-energy materials such as wood, and recycled and recyclable products were prioritized.

Goal 10: Reduced inequality within and among countries

One of the principles of La Borda was to provide equal opportunities for accessing the cooperative to diverse individuals with varying needs that do not necessarily fit into traditional household typologies centered around the nuclear family structure. This was manifested in two ways. Firstly, by creating different typologies of housing units that can accommodate the needs of different household configurations. Secondly, a flexible modular structure was employed to offer the possibility of future modifications in case the needs of the inhabitants or the number of people change.

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable

La Borda aims to provide access to affordable, adequate, and secure housing with basic services through the active participation of the community. A way to evaluate the success of this goal could be to measure the proportion of households that left inadequate/ poorly served housing by moving into the housing cooperative.

Goal 12.  Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

To assess the achievement of this goal, one way could be to measure the reduction in energy consumption from non-renewable sources as a result of La Borda's sustainable design practices and use of low-emission materials.

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels

La Borda was a social experiment that achieved the promotion and legitimization of a novel framework for housing provision in the city of Barcelona. This framework led to a revision of municipal policies concerning building permissions and obligations.


Allen, J. (2006). Welfare regimes, welfare systems and housing in southern Europe. European Journal of Housing Policy, 6(3), 251–277.

Avilla-Royo, R., Jacoby, S., & Bilbao, I. (2021). The building as a home: Housing cooperatives in Barcelona. Buildings, 11(4).

Cabré, E., & Andrés, A. (2018). La Borda: a case study on the implementation of cooperative housing in Catalonia. International Journal of Housing Policy, 18(3), 412–432.

Can Batlló. (2020). Can Batlló.

Girbés-Peco, S., Foraster, M. J., Mara, L. C., & Morlà-Folch, T. (2020). The role of the democratic organization in the La borda housing cooperative in Spain. Habitat International, 102.

la Borda. (2020). Cesión de uso.

LaCol. (2020a). Com de sostenible realment és la Borda?

LaCol. (2020b). La Borda: visita arquitectònica.

Parés, M., Ferreri, M., & Cabré, E. (2021). La coproducció d’habitatge a Catalunya: orientacions per al món local.

Related vocabulary



Community Empowerment

Participatory Approaches

Social Sustainability

Area: Design, planning and building

Affordability is defined as the state of being cheap enough for people to be able to buy (Combley, 2011). Applied to housing, affordability, housing unaffordability and the mounting housing affordability crisis, are concepts that have come to the fore, especially in the contexts of free-market economies and housing systems led by private initiatives, due to the spiralling house prices that residents of major urban agglomerations across the world have experienced in recent years (Galster & Ok Lee, 2021). Notwithstanding, the seeming simplicity of the concept, the definition of housing affordability can vary depending on the context and approach to the issue, rendering its applicability in practice difficult. Likewise, its measurement implies a multidimensional and multi-disciplinary lens (Haffner & Hulse, 2021). One definition widely referred to of housing affordability is the one provided by Maclennan and Williams (1990, p.9): “‘Affordability’ is concerned with securing some given standard of housing (or different standards) at a price or a rent which does not impose, in the eyes of some third party (usually government) an unreasonable burden on household incomes”. Hence, the maximum expenditure a household should pay for housing is no more than 30% of its income (Paris, 2006). Otherwise, housing is deemed unaffordable. This measure of affordability reduces a complex issue to a simple calculation of the rent-to-income ratio or house-price-to-income ratio. In reality, a plethora of variables can affect affordability and should be considered when assessing it holistically, especially when judging what is acceptable or not in the context of specific individual and societal norms (see Haffner & Hulse, 2021; Hancock, 1993). Other approaches to measure housing affordability consider how much ‘non-housing’ expenditures are unattended after paying for housing. Whether this residual income is not sufficient to adequately cover other household’s needs, then there is an affordability problem (Stone, 2006). These approaches also distinguish between “purchase affordability” (the ability to borrow funds to purchase a house) and “repayment affordability” (the ability to afford housing finance repayments) (Bieri, 2014). Furthermore, housing production and, ultimately affordability, rely upon demand and supply factors that affect both the developers and home buyers. On the supply side, aspects such as the cost of land, high construction costs, stiff land-use regulations, and zoning codes have a crucial role in determining the ultimate price of housing (Paris, 2006). Likewise, on the policy side, insufficient government subsidies and lengthy approval processes may deter smaller developers from embarking on new projects. On the other hand, the demand for affordable housing keeps increasing alongside the prices, which remain high, as a consequence of the, sometimes deliberate incapacity of the construction sector to meet the consumers' needs (Halligan, 2021). Similarly, the difficulty of decreasing household expenditures while increasing incomes exacerbates the unaffordability of housing (Anacker, 2019). In the end, as more recent scholarship has pointed out (see Haffner & Hulse, 2021; Mulliner & Maliene, 2014), the issue of housing affordability has complex implications that go beyond the purely economic or financial ones. The authors argue that it has a direct impact on the quality of life and well-being of the affected and their relationship with the city, and thus, it requires a multidimensional assessment. Urban and spatial inequalities in the access to city services and resources, gentrification, segregation, fuel and commuting poverty, and suburbanisation are amongst its most notorious consequences. Brysch and Czischke, for example, found through a comparative analysis of 16 collaborative housing projects in Europe that affordability was increased by “strategic design decisions and self-organised activities aiming to reduce building costs” (2021, p.18). This demonstrates that there is a great potential for design and urban planning tools and mechanisms to contribute to the generation of innovative solutions to enable housing affordability considering all the dimensions involved, i.e., spatial, urban, social and economic. Examples range from public-private partnerships, new materials and building techniques, alternative housing schemes and tenure models (e.g., cohousing, housing cooperatives, Community Land Trusts, ‘Baugruppen’), to efficient interior design, (e.g., flexible design, design by layers[1]). Considering affordability from a design point of view can activate different levers to catalyse and bring forward housing solutions for cities; and stakeholders such as socially engaged real estate developers, policymakers, and municipal authorities have a decisive stake in creating an adequate environment for fostering, producing and delivering sustainable and affordable housing.   [1] (see Brand, 1995; Schneider & Till, 2007)

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)


Area: Community participation

In a broader sense, co-creation means the joint effort of bringing something new to fruition through acts of collective creativity (Sanders & Stappers, 2008) which can be manifested in both tangible (making something together) or intangible (learning something together) outcomes (Puerari et al., 2018). Recently, the concepts of co-creation or co- production have been applied to describe the processes of participation in urban planning and design. Both terms place particular emphasis on the partnerships formed between citizens and the public sector, in which a high level of citizen involvement is pivotal. Participation has been defined through its different levels of citizen involvement, ranging from non-participation to greater degrees of citizen control (Arnstein, 1969) indicating the different levels of influence a participant can have on a participatory process. From the perspective of urban planning, citizen participation is beginning to be described as co-creation when citizens’ roles become more prominent, presenting aspects of self-organisation, increased commitment and a sense of ownership of the process (Puerari et al., 2018). Recent research is exploring new methods of urban planning in which citizens, the municipality and private organisations co-create new planning rules (Bisschops & Beunen, 2019). However, co-creation along with co-production and participation, often used interchangeably, have become popular catchphrases and are considered as processes which are of virtue in themselves. Furthermore, while there is substantial research on these processes, the research conducted on the outcomes of enhanced participation remains rather limited (Voorberg et al., 2015). This highlights the ambiguity in terms of interpretation; is co-creation a methodology, a set of tools to enhance and drive a process, or a goal in itself? (Puerari et al., 2018). There have often been cases where participation, co-creation and co-production have been used decoratively, as a form of justification and validation of decisions already made (Armeni, 2016). In the provision of public spaces, co-creation/co-production may specifically involve housing (Brandsen & Helderman, 2012; Chatterton, 2016) and placemaking: “placemaking in public space implies engaging in the practice of urban planning and design beyond an expert culture. Such collaboration can be described as co-creation.” (Eggertsen Teder, 2019, p.290). As in participation, co-creation requires the sharing of decision-making powers, the creation of  joint knowledge and the assignation of abilities between communities, while urban professionals and local authorities should draw attention to the active involvement of community members. Furthermore, co-creation does not take place in a vacuum, but always occurs within socio- spatial contexts. This points to the objective of co-creation as a tool to influence locally relevant policy through innovation that is “place-based”. To conclude, co-creation can be perceived as a process that is both transdisciplinary in its application, and as a tool for achieving transdisciplinarity on a broader scale through a systematic integration in existing standard practices in urban planning, housing design and architecture. Despite the persisting ambiguity in its definition, co-creation processes can provide more inclusive platforms for revisiting and informing formal and informal knowledge on sustainable and affordable housing.

Created on 16-02-2022

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9), A.Panagidis (ESR8)


Area: Community participation

Community empowerment appears in the literature of participatory action research (Minkler, 2004), participatory planning (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018), and community development (Luttrell et al., 2009) as a key element of participatory practices, understanding it as a process that enables communities to take control of their lives and their environments (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Many argue that community participation becomes meaningless if it does not lead to, or pass through community empowerment. As the term is being used in diverse and ubiquitous ways, it runs the risk of ending up as an empty definition and a catch-all phrase (McLaughlin, 2015). It is therefore important to specify the perspective through which we will view the term and clarify the nuances.  Since its origins, empowerment has been used in two different ways. Firstly, top-down as the power that had been ‘granted’ by a higher authority, such as the state or a religious institution, and secondly, bottom-up, as a process by which groups or individuals come to develop the capacity to act and acquire power. Examples of the latter can be found in social groups such as feminists working in nongovernmental organizations throughout the global south in the 1970s, who found a way to address social issues and inequalities that enabled social transformation based on women’s self-organization (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). The term was gradually appropriated by welfare, neoliberal, and social-neoliberal agendas whose priority was individual agency and choice. In neoliberal rationality, empowerment is related to efficiency, economic growth, business productivity, and individual rational choice to maximize profit in a competitive market economy. In social liberalism agendas, empowerment is understood as ‘effective agency’, where ‘agency’ is not an inherent attribute, but something that needs to be constructed through ‘consciousness-raising’ (McLaughlin, 2016). A broader definition sees empowerment as a social action process through which individuals, communities, and organizations take control of their lives in the context of changing the social and political environment to improve equity and quality of life (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Rowlands (1997), refers to four types of empowerment: power over, as the ability to influence and coerce; power to, to organize and change existing hierarchies; power with, as the power from the collective action and power within, as the power from the individual consciousness. Using this classification, Biewener & Bacqué (2015), adopting a feminist approach, understand empowerment as a multilevel construct with three interrelated dimensions: 1) an internal, psychological one, where ‘power within’ and ‘power to’ are developed, 2) an organizational, where ‘power with’ and ‘power over’ are strengthened and 3) a social or political level, where institutional and structural change is made possible through collective action. Thus, community empowerment links the individual level, which involves self-determination, growth of individual awareness, and self-esteem, to the collective level, relating critical consciousness and capacity building with the structural level, where collective engagement and transformative social action take place. This view of empowerment, which considers its goals and processes, has a social dimension that is lacking in other approaches that prioritize individual empowerment. Aside from the feminist movements, the philosophy and practices of community empowerment have been greatly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and an advocate on critical pedagogy. Freire proposed a dialogic problem-solving process based on equality and mutual respect between students and teachers; that engaged them in a process of iterative listening-discussing-acting. Through structured dialogue, group participants shared their experiences, discussed common problems, and looked for root causes and the connections among “problems behind the problems as symptoms” (Freire, 1970). The term conscientization, that Freire proposed, refers to the consciousness that arises through the involvement of people in the social analysis of conditions and their role in changing them. This awareness enables groups to be reflexive and open spaces, to enact change or to understand those limited situations that may deter change (Barndt, 1989). Empowerment can be understood as both a process and an outcome (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018). As a process, it refers to “the development and implementation of mechanisms to enable individuals or groups to gain control, develop skills and test knowledge”(Harrison & Waite, 2015) and it entails the creation of new subjects who have developed a critical consciousness and the formation of groups with a ‘collective agency’ ‚ or ‘social collective identity’ (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). Empowerment as an outcome refers to “an affective state in which the individual or group feels that they have increased control, greater understanding and are involved and active” (Harrison & Waite, 2015). This can lead to a transformation of the social conditions by challenging the structures and institutionalized forms that reproduce inequalities. The values and the significance of community empowerment can be further applied in the participatory and community-based approaches of the housing sector. Examples of such approaches in the housing provision are the housing cooperatives, and self-developed and self-managed housing groups. Housing cooperatives aim at promoting co-creation to engage future residents, professionals, and non-profit organizations in all the stages of a housing project: problem-framing, designing, developing, cohabiting, managing, and maintaining. Such organisational models stress the importance and pave the way for community empowerment by uniting individuals with similar interests and ideals, enabling them to have housing that responds to their needs, preferences, and values. The participation of the residents aims to strengthen their sense of ownership of the process, the democratic decision-making and management, and the social collective identity, making community empowerment an integral characteristic of cooperative housing initiatives. With this social perspective, residents can gain individual and collective benefits while contributing to fairer and more sustainable urban development on a larger scale (Viskovic Rojs et al., 2020).

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)


Area: Community participation

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, participation is “the act of taking part in an activity or event”. Likewise, it can also mean “the fact of sharing or the act of receiving or having a part of something.” It derives from old French participacion which in turn comes from late Latin participationem, which means “partaking” (Harper, 2000).  References to participation can be found in many fields, including social sciences, economics, politics, and culture. It is often related to the idea of citizenship and its different representations in society. Hence, it could be explained as an umbrella concept, in which several others can be encompassed, including methodologies, philosophical discourses, and tools. Despite the complexity in providing a holistic definition, the intrinsic relation between participation and power is widely recognised. Its ultimate objective is to empower those involved in the process (Nikkhah & Redzuan, 2009). An early application of participatory approaches was the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) which exerted a significant influence in developing new discourses and practices of urban settings (Chambers, 1994; Friedmann, 1994). In the late 1970s increasing attention was paid to the concept by scholars, and several associated principles and terminologies evolved, such as the participation in design and planning with the Scandinavian approach of cooperative design (Bφdker et al., 1995; Gregory, 2003). Participation in design or participatory design is a process and strategy that entails all stakeholders (e.g. partners, citizens, and end-users) partaking in the design process. It is a democratic process for design based on the assumption that users should be involved in the designs they will go on to use (Bannon & Ehn, 2012; Cipan, 2019; Sanoff, 2000, 2006, 2007). Likewise, participatory planning is an alternative paradigm that emerged in response to the rationalistic and centralized – top-down – approaches. Participatory planning aims to integrate the technical expertise with the preferences and knowledge of community members (e.g., citizens, non-governmental organizations, and social movements) directly and centrally in the planning and development processes, producing outcomes that respond to the community's needs (Lane, 2005). Understanding participation through the roles of participants is a vital concept. The work of Sherry Arnstein’s (1969) Ladder of Citizen Participation has long been the cornerstone to understand participation from the perspective of the redistribution of power between the haves and the have-nots. Her most influential typological categorisation work yet distinguishes eight degrees of participation as seen in Figure 1: manipulation, therapy, placation, consultation, informing, citizen control, delegated power and partnership. Applied to a participatory planning context, this classification refers to the range of influence that participants can have in the decision-making process. In this case, no-participation is defined as designers deciding based upon assumptions of the users’ needs and full-participation refers to users defining the quality criteria themselves (Geddes et al., 2019). A more recent classification framework that also grounds the conceptual approach to the design practice and its complex reality has been developed by Archon Fung (2006) upon three key dimensions: who participates; how participants communicate with one another and make decisions together, and how discussions are linked with policy or public action. This three-dimensional approach which Fung describes as a democracy cube (Figure 2), constitutes a more analytic space where any mechanism of participation can be located. Such frameworks of thinking allow for more creative interpretations of the interrelations between participants, participation tools (including immersive digital tools) and contemporary approaches to policymaking. Aligned with Arnstein’s views when describing the lower rungs of the ladder (i.e., nonparticipation and tokenism), other authors have highlighted the perils of incorporating participatory processes as part of pre-defined agendas, as box-ticking exercises, or for political manipulation. By turning to eye-catching epithets to describe it (Participation: The New Tyranny? by Cooke & Kothari, 2001; or The Nightmare of Participation by Miessen, 2010), these authors attempt to raise awareness on the overuse of the term participation and the possible disempowering effects that can bring upon the participating communities, such as frustration and lack of trust. Examples that must exhort practitioners to reassess their role and focus on eliminating rather than reinforcing inequalities (Cooke & Kothari, 2001).

Created on 17-02-2022

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13), L.Ricaurte (ESR15), M.Alsaeed (ESR5)


Area: Community participation

From the three pillars of sustainable development, economic, environmental and social, the latter  involving social equity and the sustainability of communities, has  been especially neglected. Ongoing problems caused by conflicting economic, environmental and social goals with regard to the processes of urbanisation continue. underpinning economic growth that contradict principles of environmental and social justice (Boström, 2012; Cuthill, 2010; Winston, 2009). Research on sustainable development highlights the need for further investigation of social sustainability (Murphy, 2012; Vallance et al., 2011). Social sustainability has been interpreted as an umbrella term encompassing many other related concepts; “social equity and justice, social capital, social cohesion, social exclusion, environmental justice, quality of life, and urban liveability” (Shirazi & Keivani, 2019, p. 4). A vast number of studies have been dedicated to defining social sustainability by developing theoretical frameworks and indicators particularly relevant to urban development and housing discourse (Cuthill, 2010; Dempsey et al., 2011; Murphy, 2012; Woodcraft, 2012). However, with a lack of consensus on the way of utilising these frameworks in a practical way, especially when applied to planning, social sustainability has remained difficult to evaluate or measure. Consequently, planning experts, housing providers and inhabitants alike understand social sustainability as a normative concept, according to established social norms, and less as an opportunity to critically examine existing institutions. Vallance et al (2011) provide three categories to analyse social sustainability, development, bridge and maintenance sustainability: (a) social development improves conditions of poverty and inequity, from the provision of basic needs to the redistribution of power to influence existing development paradigms; (b) the conditions necessary to bridge social with ecological sustainability, overcoming currently disconnected social and ecological concerns; and (c) the social practices, cultural preferences as well as the environments which are maintained over time. Maintenance social sustainability particularly deals with how people interpret what is to be maintained and includes “new housing developments, the layout of streets, open spaces, residential densities, the location of services, an awareness of habitual movements in place, and how they connect with housing cultures, preferences, practices and values, particularly those for low-density, suburban lifestyles” (Vallance et al., 2011, p. 345). Therefore, the notion of maintenance is especially important in defining social sustainability by directly investigating the established institutions, or “sets of norms” that constitute the social practices and rules, that in turn, affect responsibilities for planning urban spaces. A conceptual framework that appears frequently in social sustainability literature is that of Dempsey et al. (2011)⁠ following Bramley et al. (2009), defining social sustainability according to the variables of social equity and sustainability of community and their relationship to urban form, significantly at the local scale of the neighbourhood. In terms of the built environment, social equity (used interchangeably with social justice) is understood as the accessibility and equal opportunities to frequently used services, facilities, decent and affordable housing, and good public transport. In this description of local, as opposed to regional services, proximity and accessibility are important. Equitable access to such local services effectively connects housing to key aspects of everyday life and to the wider urban infrastructures that support it. Sustainability of community is associated with the abilities of society to develop networks of collective organisation and action and is dependent on social interaction. The associated term social capital has also been used extensively to describe social norms and networks that can be witnessed particularly at the community level to facilitate collective action (Woolcock, 2001, p. 70). They might include a diversity of issues such as resident interaction, reciprocity, cooperation and trust expressed by common exchanges between residents, civic engagement, lower crime rates and other positive neighbourhood qualities that are dependent on sharing a commitment to place (Foster, 2006; Putnam, 1995; Temkin & Rohe, 1998). In fact, “the heightened sense of ownership and belonging to a locale” is considered to encourage the development of social relations (Hamiduddin & Adelfio, 2019, p. 188). However, the gap between theoretical discussions about social sustainability and their practical application has continued. For example, the emphasis of social sustainability as a target outcome rather than as a process has been prioritised in technocratic approaches to planning new housing developments and to measuring their success by factors which are tangible and easier to count and audit. Private housing developers that deal with urban regeneration make bold claims to social sustainability yet profound questions are raised regarding the effects of gentrification (Dixon, 2019). Accordingly, the attempted methods of public participation as planning tools for integrating the ‘social’ have been found to be less effective - their potential being undercut due to the reality that decision-making power has remained at the top (Eizenberg & Jabareen, 2017). Therefore, social sustainability is not a fixed concept, it is contingent on the interdependence of the procedural aspects (how to achieve social sustainability) and substantive aspects (what are the outcomes of social sustainability goals) (Boström, 2012). From this point of view, social sustainability reveals its process-oriented nature and the need to establish processes of practicing social sustainability that begin with the participation of citizens in decision-making processes in producing equitable (i.e. socially sustainable) development. As a dimension of sustainable development that is harder to quantify than the economic or environmental aspects, the operationalisation of social sustainability goals into spatial, actionable principles has remained a burgeoning area of research. In such research, methods for enhancing citizen participation are a particularly important concern in order to engage and empower people with “non-expert” knowledge to collaborate with academic researchers.

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)


Related publications

Tzika, Z., Sentieri, C., & Martinez, A. (2023). Towards collective forms of dwelling: Analysis of the characteristics of the emerging grant-of-use housing cooperatives in Catalonia. Revista de Arquitectura

Posted on 04-10-2023




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Towards flexible and industrialised housing solutions

Posted on 24-02-2023

Near the end of 2022 I had the chance to complete my first secondment of two months at La Salle, in Barcelona. This was a great opportunity to understand how the municipality of Barcelona, architecture firms and industry partners are developing more flexible and sustainable housing solutions that can accommodate new family structures and different ways of habitation.  Furthermore, it became the perfect occasion to reconnect with the state of the industry in my home country, increase my network of contacts and work hand-in-hand with my co-supervisor Nuria Martí.      Within the Spanish territory, Barcelona is the city leading change with innovative housing solutions, promoting the creation of non-hierarchical and resilient distributions, and incentivising the use of industrialised construction through public competitions. This change of paradigm is not only increasing the current affordable housing stock, but is integrating new actors in the decision-making process through participatory practices.    The main goal of my secondment was to develop a case study assessment methodology that would combine a taxonomical classification of the building systems and highlight the design strategies for each of the building layers (structure, façade, access and circulation, services and internal dividing elements). Ultimately, correlating these criteria with the type of customisation offered in the domestic space. Besides helping me establish the parameters to compare and classify the housing case studies, the interviews to practitioners also shed some light on some of the challenges ahead.   Support and infill   Habraken’s (1961) critical response to mass housing proposed an approach in which a dwelling should encourage adaptation and become an instrument to empower the user. This approach took into account different needs and time horizons dividing the building into 2 groups: the long-life components that constitute the communal structure, and the short-life components that respond to individual needs and can be modified without hindering the overall integrity of the system. This concept is strongly related to what Steward Brand (1995) proposed with his ‘Shearing layers of change’, which emphasized these layers to be differentiated according to their particular lifespans. Building upon the mentioned authors, Bernard Leupen (2006) suggested that it is precisely the permanence of the frame (known as support in the Open Building movement) that enables the generic space to be altered, extended or used in a variety of ways. More recently, Jeremy Till and Tatjana Schneider (2007) conveyed the idea that “the most productive approach to prefabrication for flexible housing is probably not one that invents new systems from scratch, but one that assembles existing prefabricated elements in an adaptable manner.”   My research is therefore using a set of case studies to analyse the design strategies, construction system and level of industrialisation per building layer, identifying those that belong to the support, and defining the type and degree of customisation offered to the infill.   Non-hierarchical spaces   Due to the increasing variety of family structures and the pressing need to design resilient dwellings that can be adapted to future needs, recent housing developments in Barcelona are proposing non-hierarchical distributions. Spatial polyvalence is essential to enable the flexibility for user customisation (Hertzberger, 1991). Flexibility has become a prerequisite for today’s collective housing solutions and, moreover, it is a strategy that promotes gender equality in distributions. Gender equality seeks to break with the traditional role division in the domestic space and promotes the involvement of all family members in the household tasks, for example by bringing the kitchen to a visible and central position as opposed to secluded and closed-off (Montaner et al., 2019).   An example of a non-hierarchical, flexible and gender-equal solution is the award-winning 85 social housing units in Cornellà by Peris + Toral Arquitectes which proposes a matrix of connected rooms that allow the user to inhabit the space in multiple ways. The 3.6 x 3.6 module promotes porous distributions, non-linear circulation, and adaptability throughout time. This is also the case in the Illa Glòries by Cierto Estudio, which I was lucky enough to interview while on my secondment. Aiming to create versatile homes that can be adapted to the tenant’s changing needs in a simple and reversible way, the connections between adjacent spaces are multiplied while the corridors are removed. A central room ‘rótula’, makes it possible to create diagonal visual connections and increase the circulation possibilities while conferring independence to the surrounding rooms. This matrix of non-hierarchical rooms creates a dynamic housing aggregation system, where the limits of the flats have the potential to vary and different layouts are possible.   Industrialised public housing   In order to promote the use of industrialised construction methods, the IMHAB (Institut Municipal de l’Habitatge I Rehabilitació de Barcelona) has created several public housing competitions where the architect, the consultants and the construction company had to work collaboratively from the early stages of the design. Some of the objectives the IMHAB sought to achieve through these public competitions were the acceleration of the production processes, the reduction of the carbon footprint, the increase of the quality of the buildings and shortening the execution time. The resolution of the proposals shows a growing interest in the use of engineered timber components such as CLT or glulam. The design teams highlighted several benefits in using this material as the reduction of the embodied emissions, the lower costs of foundations due to a lighter structure, or the increased precision when prefabricating components with computerised numerical control (CNC). Additionally, companies as 011h are collaborating with design teams to digitalise their kit of parts in such way that the data can be utilised throughout the entire process of design, manufacturing and assembly. This high level of digitisation requires a greater coordination between stakeholders on early stages of the design and could become a tool to provide mass-customised dwellings at an affordable price.   However, the slow adoption of digital technologies, limited wood suppliers, and the strict Fire Safety and Acoustic regulations in Spain, have become major barriers when using engineered timber in housing. To comply with the regulations, most of the projects had to incorporate wet screeds after the dry construction, hindering the possibility to disassemble the components for future reuse or recycling.   Flexible housing solutions   Flexibility is necessary to allow for the customisation of housing in the short term and ensure the adaptability in the long term. The way architects and industry professionals define the built environment impacts enormously on the transformation capacity that housing has to incorporate different needs over time. This flexibility is tightly linked to dimensions, design strategies and construction systems, and can contribute to a democratisation of design by integrating new voices in the process. Barcelona turned out to be an extremely useful secondment to understand how some of these strategies and construction systems are implemented in practice.     References   Brand, S. (1995). How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built. Penguin Books.   Habraken, N. J. (1961). Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing. Routledge.   Herman Hertzberger. (1991). Lessons for Students in Architecture. 010 Publishers.   Leupen, B. (2006). Frame and Generic Space. 010 Publishers.   Montaner, J. M., Buron, J., Mira, A., Valiño, V., Prats, M., Font, G., Ventura, N., & Palay, J. (2019). Flexibilidad e igualdad de  género en la vivienda.   Schneider, T., & Till, J. (2007). Flexible housing. Elsevier.

Author: C.Martín (ESR14)


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Cooperative housing in Barcelona

Posted on 01-02-2023

Cooperative, community-led, or collaborative forms of housing appear as collective responses to the way we inhabit. At times they are perceived as experimentations in a certain socio-spatial context that seek to push the limits, question or re-interpret existing practices of inhabiting. As a phenomenon tends to reappear and grow in periods where the mechanisms in place for the provision and distribution of housing are not providing solutions (or adequate solutions) for all households. The main values that have been identified as drivers of such initiatives are: fostering a communal way of living, seeking affordable solutions through collective action, rethinking the ecological impact of housing, and addressing gender equality, as well as aging issues. The difference between cooperative housing and market or state-provided housing is that it attempts to overlap three aspects of housing that are usually separated: property, development of housing, and participation in decision-making (Lacol et al., 2018).   In the last months, I have been conducting my case study research in Barcelona, as part of my secondment, where there is a renewed interest in this form of housing. Since its initiation, starting from bottom-up collectives, and neighborhood movements, and growing towards more parts of society, the groups manifest for the right to housing, stressing the importance of the engagement of the inhabitants and the creation of non-speculative and long-term affordable housing. Currently, there is a collective effort in place, from the groups and the support organisations, to promote the model and make it more inclusive. A platform was created at the regional level, where all the cooperatives participate to discuss the evolution of the model. The values that the platform is highlighting as the core of the model, and the ones to reinforce and improve are (XES, 2019):   Non-profit and collective property The cooperatives use collective tenure forms, through long-term and secure access to housing but without the possibility of owning the property and making a profit out of it.   Community engagement and self-management The participation of the inhabitants in the decision-making is at the core of this model. As each group is different, with different priorities, resources, and skills, community engagement can take different forms.   Affordable and inclusive housing One of the key stakes of the model is affordability. The main mechanism for that was initially the grant of use of land, instead of buying it. However, as the model is evolving more mechanisms are being tested and implemented to include more people.   Replicability Collaboration and exchange of knowledge are being promoted among the groups. As practices are being shared and knowledge is being slowly generated, we can look at the lessons learned and understand the critical points.   Sustainability Most of the cases are opting for sustainable housing solutions, by focusing on low-carbon materials, the passive design of the building, and renewable energies. As we are in a moment, when energy and material prices are increasing because of inflation, we see how the trends of the material choices of the initial projects are changing towards locally produced ones.   References: Lacol, la Ciutat Invisible, & la Dinamo Fundación. (2018). Habitar en comunidad : la vivienda cooperativa en cesión de uso. Catarata. XES. (2019). Regulatory principles of cooperative housing in grant of use by the sector for cooperative and transformative housing of the social and solidarity economy network of Catalonia.

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)


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The discussion for the right to housing. ENHR, Barcelona 2022

Posted on 12-09-2022

The annual conference of the European Network of Housing Research took place in Barcelona this year, under the title “The struggle for the right to housing. The pressures of globalization and affordability in cities today”. At the epicenter was the issue of the unaffordability of housing and its increasing financialization. As cities become part of a global arena, urban space is increasingly subjected to the flows of capital and market forces, leaving behind the needs and the voices of the local populations. This is what Raquel Rolnik referred to, during the conference, as the colonization of the built space by finance and the processes of dispossession that it implies. In these conditions, housing is being used as an exchange value, as the preferred asset for investment by funds, or for rental exploitation and speculation, by short-term rental corporations. This understanding of housing as an exchange value, demotes its use value, as the right for a shelter, for security, and as a place that is intertwined with people's lives and well-being.   At the same time, we observe how dominant paradigms of urban organization and planning, are spreading over the world, reconfiguring cities and territories. The urban mutations that are caused, for example, by the processes of touristification and gentrification, having a more profound impact on territories at the periphery (or semi-periphery) of capitalism, create unhostile cities for its residents, breaking the social fabric and disturbing social cohesion. As a consequence, these urban reconfigurations, lead to a restructuring of the housing regimes in terms of tenure forms. The rentierization of many housing markets, for example, leads to tenure and intergenerational inequalities between homeowners and renters, creating more precarious conditions for those at rent. On a policy level, important actions were discussed such as the regulation of short-term rentals and rent-control policies together with more supply of social housing, or public support of community-led housing initiatives.    As a counter-act to the ongoing processes of financialization and speculation, there are many bottom-up responses, from groups that are claiming housing as a right and are pushing for decommodified and affordable housing. The emergence of cooperative housing and community land trusts, is such a case, intending to create alternative forms of collective and non-speculative housing, separating the use-value from the exchange value. Through participatory processes and democratic decision-making, the initiatives are creating new forms of ownership, based on collective management. The objectives are plural, as apart from the demand for access to decent and affordable housing, the groups are creating more communal ways of living, in terms of spatial and social configurations and are reconsidering the meaning of sustainability in housing.   Aspects that were discussed in relation to cooperative housing were the affordability of the model and the opportunities for access by social groups in need of affordable, decent, and secure housing, such as low-income, single-parent or immigrant households. Also, the use of policy instruments to facilitate their production and regulate their access to them, as well as the long-term affordability of the model and the prevention of future privatization and speculation. Often the discussion on the inclusion of the model and the accessibility by different social groups is related to the question of governance, in all the phases of production, management, and administration of the housing cooperative, looking at the differences between more self-managed cases, and at others that are being developed in collaboration with associations and umbrella cooperative promoters.     Co-operative housing initiatives are framed by many researchers within the literature of the commons, and thus understood and analyzed by their capacity to create spaces and practices of commoning, embedded in the everyday lives of the inhabitants. This can be analyzed in the internal structure of the housing (spatially and socially), but also in relation to the neighborhood scale, and the impact it can have on the area. In close relation is found the research of cooperative housing through the lens of the ethics of care. The collectivization of the domestic sphere is creating opportunities for different forms of social reproduction that question the dominant ways of dwelling. There are current research projects that attempt to evaluate the contribution of cooperative housing, as a way of dwelling, in the life of its inhabitants, looking at the health and well-being of the communities or the potential to tackle the social rupture created by the individualization of housing, thus looking at the social impact it can generate.   As the model is expanding, and cases of collective, shared, and cooperative housing appear in different contexts from the global north to the south, it is important for the research community to keep shedding light on the potential, but also on the contradictions of these practices. The analysis and the comparison of different cases, help us to learn from the experiences of the groups and work to strengthen the idea of housing as a right, and as a space and a practice that can be meaningful for the communities.

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Conferences, Reflections

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Community participation in the provision of affordable and sustainable housing | discussing inclusion/exclusion

Posted on 05-04-2022

The third RE-DWELL network-wide activity took place in Budapest, at the Centre for Social Sciences. Each one of the network activities falls under a specific thematic, indicating where the focus of each of our common activities would be. The first two - the Lisbon workshop and the Nicosia summer school-, were revolving around the area of ‘design, planning, and building’ while the next two - Budapest's workshop and the upcoming Valencia summer school- will focus on ‘community participation’.   Community participation in housing provision is pursued by communities eager to build housing that fits their needs, values, and desires. This can manifest itself in material terms, understanding housing as a physical space that should meet economic demands, long-term affordability, or spatial configurations that address the needs of their dwellers. Parallelly, through the active participation of the communities, broader concepts are also being addressed, such as environmental and social sustainability. The entanglement of those two concepts has to be defined by each community, encompassing their habits, practices, and modes of living and having as a final aim their individual and collective wellbeing.   We participated in a roundtable about “Community participation in the provision of affordable and sustainable housing” with experts from the field, Jenny Pickerill, professor of environmental geography and head of the department of geography at the University of Sheffield, and Richard Lang, professor of social enterprise and innovative regions at Bertha von Suttner University in Austria. The discussion revolved around cooperative housing in  UK and Austria. Both countries are considered to be at the forefront in the provision of cooperative housing in Europe. However, they are different contexts of study, in terms of socio-cultural, political, and legal frameworks. Austria appears to have a more supportive institutional environment compared to the UK, coming from a long tradition of accommodating different groups, such as immigrants, into the cooperative housing schemes.   A central issue within this field is the question of the inclusion of cooperative housing schemes and their institutionalisation. Are these models accessible for people with fewer resources (economic, social, cultural) or are they reproducing the existing power configurations (economic and social status), silencing inequalities, and excluding certain social groups? To arrive at conclusions, it is important to understand how cooperative housing emerges in different contexts, which are the objectives and motivations behind it? Who ends up living in these places? and most importantly, do they finally provide an affordable alternative to housing for the local population of a specific area?   We encounter two broad categories for the creation of cooperative housing; the first refers to self-initiated groups that make decisions based on consensus, adopting often self-built approaches. The initial group could either have a ‘closed’ composition, maintaining its homogeneity, or reach out to the local population for joining the cooperative. However, a recurring question is: does anyone have the same right to access these groups of housing co-creation? Another question is if different groups receive the same recognition, institutional support, and security regarding their housing conditions, or if when entering the institutional framework certain groups are being favoured at the expense of others.   The second category refers to the promotion of cooperative housing that is being intermediated by organisations, such as housing or non-profit associations. These foster and facilitate communities to actively participate in forming and self-managing their housing. The intermediate organisations facilitate the processes by supporting the groups in diverse ways, such as finding potential members, providing legal and managerial support, etc. Thus, understanding whose voices are been heard each time in both trajectories of cooperative housing provision is a way to assess how inclusive they are.   Typically, members of the cooperative groups often appear to have a certain social, cultural, and economic status; groups of white, well-educated people with social capital and skills. Many groups struggle with that as they are socially conscious and want to reconfigure the power dynamics and inequalities in accessing housing. However, as the challenges of social justice are more complex to address, many cooperative projects end up focusing on environmental goals that are easier to meet than the social and economic inequalities. Therefore, it is important to realize: Who is excluded from cooperative housing processes? Who has been excluded intentionally or unintentionally?   The term reflexivity was often mentioned in the discussion, referring to collective practices of self-reflection about the participants' positionalities, authorities, verbalisation skills, experience, and values. As people often come with different resources in the process of co-creating cooperative housing, a way to take this into account is to create various levels of participation, making it less demanding for people that do not have the same time or economic capacity. In this way, the collaboration factor would be present, being aware of the importance of redistributing knowledge and resources.

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Workshops, Reflections


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