27/08/2012No Comments

Let me tell you about my (collaborative) vacations (first part)

Vacations are perfect for some collaborative housing! The fact that we stay there for limited time gives us more courage to share some spaces and activities. We often rent a place together with friends and family, eat together almost every evening and… we love it! Interesting to think how we could bring some of our vacation spirit to our everyday life, sure… we leave the sea behind and have to be all practical and efficient. Nevertheless, I think it is possible, but, to begin with, in the two following posts I would like to speak about collaborative vacations.

Last year I had a great experience in a place called Gran Pino. My daughter was to be born in summer and we planned a very relaxing time. Some friends suggested a place in Toscany. They told us that it is great because it is just 5 minutes walking from the beach, all meals are cooked for you and since many parents are attracted to the space there is a lot of collaboration between people, helping each other and socialising. The price was also interesting… so we booked two weeks.

Gran Pino is a house that is rented by the association “amici della natura” or Friends of Nature. The association takes upon itself to offer houses for self-management in very good prices, so that tourism can become more affordable and based on people’s organization. This house was the first one in Italy. It is a big house from the ’70 with many rooms, a kitchen and a big area around it.

My first impression was: “oh my god! Where did I come with my 3 weeks old baby? This place is falling a part!!”  We had a very small room, one of the few rooms with toilet. The garden had an abandoned look, some games for children were falling a part, and generally everything seemed a bit left to its destiny. It did not take much for us to understand that the place is self-managed, so if we wanted it to be nicer we could just do it. A small clean up in front of the room, a small tent for the children and some other small stuff made the place feel more like home.  Eating together is also great, and when meals are cooked for you, it is even better. During July and august, it is to difficult to let people manage the kitchen so a cook makes three meals every day with fresh products from the vegetable garden. A bell announces lunch and dinner and the cook comes with big pots to serve everyone, like in a big family. Each one of us had to wash the dishes after eating, dry them and put them back in the place. As we were there with a group of friends, we took turns. Each room is responsible for cleaning some of the common areas two times a week. (for example the toilets, the showers and the dining area.)

By contributing ourselves we managed to have a very nice vacation, spending only very few. The feeling of being part of a group is great and adds a lot to relaxing, especially if you have children. Sure, some work has to be done to improve the house and the garden that requires more effort and money. Luciano, one of the founders of the association in Italy told us they are not having an easy time in Italy and therefore cannot offer things as good and cheap as they would like. The state did not give any help to the association, where in other countries for example Germany, some houses are given for free to the association.

So, relaxing by he sea side without going to the other side of the world, enjoying good and fresh local food and collaborating to have better prices and sociable moments. This is what I call a collaborative sustainable vacation!

This year, I used a collaborative service you all probably know: Airb&b. I will write about that in my next post. In the meantime, good coming back to the routine!

19/07/2012No Comments

On how to change your city life (while writing a phd)

Let me begin this story by telling you about my wonderful afternoon yesterday:
I got home with both of my girls (3y and 1y). We went to visit my neighbour Maria. Just few month ago she recommended me a kindergarten for my older girl and finally we discovered that both of our girl will be in the same class next year. We spent about 1.5h at their home, the children play together and Maria gave me two whole bags full of clothes that are not fitting her children anymore and that i could use. I came back home and it was time to make dinner. my daughters were tired and i found myself cooking while doing hundred of other things, trying to keep them calm. When i was really at a point I thought dinner will never be ready, my neighbour, Pilo, (a young guy living in the next door with his girlfriend) comes and asks if he could take my older girl over to plant some beans on the balcony. He takes also the younger girl! I am alone in the house, cooking dinner, hearing music! After dinner, the girls went to bed and we set on the balcony enjoying the summer evening. Someone is calling me from above. It the Dario, the neighbour who lives above us and his balcony is watching ours. he asks if we want some cake and then puts it in a bucket attached to a cable and passes it down.
I do not live in a village. I do not live in a commune, I do not live in my house for the last 10 years. I live in Milan, in a new big city dwelling of 100 apartments for the last two month. And still, by how my day went, i felt like i had all those things I miss about living in a small place: relationships, mutual help, conviviality, relax.
How did it all happen? Well, something you can not really predict and design. But some things can be done to make your life a little better. This is what i did:
We decided to buy a house about 3 years ago. At the same time i began to work on my phd in Design in the Politecnico di Milano. I am a service designer and for the last years have been working on social innovation, creative public spaces and sustainable cities. The topic of my PhD was related to housing from the social point of view, but i did not know what is it going to be exactly. The apartment we decided to buy was still to be built and was to be constructed by the cooperative we formed with the other future residents. We did not know each other really and our cooperation was mainly a legal form. We were supported and assisted by CCL, an organisation made for assisting construction cooperatives. It was clear for me that my research will not be a theoretical one and that I could use some “on field” experiments. And here it was, just waiting for me: what if we could know our neighbours before we even move in? How will this influence our neighbourly life afterwards? what can we make together through these relationships?
I spoke with The president of the Cooperative, Graziella Antoniotti, about the project and she was very supportive. We arranged for a public presentation in which i could launch the idea. It took some time for it to happen. In the meantime i created a dedicated social network for our building using NING. The public presentation took place about one year before the building was ready. In the presentation i showed some examples of stuff you can do together: organic food purchasing groups, car sharing, self organized babysitting, cloth exchanged and more. I also explained why I think meeting each other before moving-in is important. Then i invited people to connect to the social network i created. During this meeting I already got some positive reactions from people. Some did not care so much and only one was against the initiative. In the two weeks that followed only about 12 people joined the network. They were not many, but the spirit was right. People introduced themselves, added their pictures and began to write ideas on the Forum. People came up with ideas like shared WIFI, Book-Sharing, furniture purchasing groups and so on. We discussed those on line and had through time 3 face-to-face meeting. We made another presentation to everyone and by the day we moved in we had about 50 members on the network. Some of the initiatives are happening already. Shared WIFI, for example. And the best thing, I had NOTHING to do with the success of the initiative. Alessandro took his time preparing powerpoint presentations and contacting companies... he was assisted by Carlo and together they organised evening social events where they explained the project and got people involved. At first i had to be there, to assist people, to encourage them to share ideas, to ask each one of them personally if they come or not to the meetings. Today things just go by themselves and the great afternoon I had yesterday has happened not because of me. but because all the people that are around me and have my same wish about leaving more humanely in the city.

I want to end with a phrase from Charles Leadbeater: “ Cities are cradles for innovation because they are  where knowledge, culture and self-governance come together. That is how the narrow and the broad circuits of creativity connect. Cities are experiments in how to live together creatively".

My research study is moving on, my life has changed since I moved in. you see... you don’t need much, you can probably do the same thing in your own building. and if you need some help, just call HousingLab 😉

Have a great day!