Coliving Experiment Tests Sharing Economy's Potential

Below is an interview with members of the Sandbox House, a new coliving project in Berkeley, California started by graduates of Bainbridge Institute's MBA in Sustainable Systems who are seeking full life-work alignment and integration. A core piece of their alignment is living in the sharing economy to the greatest extent possible, weaving it into the fabric of everyday life, housing, work and community. They see sharing as a path to living in more alignment with their values by reducing their reliance on income from conventional jobs and increasing their community relationships through sharing tools. Doing it as a mission-driven community also helps members help each other live with intention.

According to the founders, “The sharing economy contains a plethora of tools to support our journey. We will use these tools to simultaneously save and/or generate money, build community, and reduce our environmental footprint. By lowering our overhead and increasing our access to the products and services we need, we will be able to more effectively live the lives we want.”

In addition to testing the possibilities of sharing, they are trying to invent "community-lite" -- an accessible version of community that avoids the baggage, the high hurdles of joining, and the endless meetings of intentional community through thoughtful structure, online tools, and sharing agreements. In partnership with Todd Jersey Architecture, they are designing custom residential buildings that integrate coliving and sharing economy features directly into the architecture - a new model for housing that gives access to a higher quality of life at a lower cost of living.

The project operates from a comprehensive theory of change - "Working from the inside out, we think that we can ultimately affect change at larger levels. Our project starts with ourselves, moves into our home (Sandbox House), our community (Sharing Economy), and ultimately our cities (Collaborative Housing)." In a recent Sandbox blog post, Ben declared, "Not everyone should be a social entrepreneur. Going into developing countries and 'helping the poor' seems to overlook the fact that we in the developed nations are a big part of creating the problems in the first place — over-consumption, very unhappy people, economic imperialism, etc." Sandbox members believe change starts from within and working on bigger, outside issues comes after you've gotten your home in order, not starting with other people's problems first.

 

Who are the people on your team? Jay, who does web design is interested in how to use technology, apps and the social web to facilitate sharing relationships and collaborative consumption. His past interests include Metacurrency and symbioeconomics. Ben, who is an engineer, worked on a biofuels project for a few years. He is interested in using technology to drive change and community-centric living models with a cheaper, more social and sustainable footprint. He was inspired by “What's Mine is Yours,” by Rachel Botsman. Zac spent 12 years on Wall Street as equity trader focused on commodities. He had a change of heart during the financial crisis. While watching the BP explosion, traders around him at work were talking about how to make money off it and he realized that this was definitely not was he was supposed to be doing with his life. He wanted to know how he could serve using his skills from the financial world. He believes community is more sustainable from an emotional and environmental perspective and wants to test that assumption in real life. He is currently working for Cutting Edge Capital and Lift Business Design.

What is your project? It's experimental co-living space, adding a layer of sharing economy tools and practices. Sandbox takes a lean start up approach with specific goals and metrics we are trying to reach. We currently all have cars so we want to car share amongst ourselves and also rent it out on Relay Rides. We also plan to rent a room on Airbnb for a financial buffer. Any problems that arise we want to try to use sharing as a solution.

What is your goal? The sharing economy is a means, not an end, to a higher quality of life, access to stuff and greater sense of community at a lower cost. We want a noneconomic focus for our lives and to be doing more of the things we love like backpacking, doing meaningful work, going to conferences. We want to be on a path of doing interesting, impactful work that will attract people and to get other people doing stuff they love, rather than a job, by offering coaching sessions. We apply the triple bottom line model to each person to help them do what they love, to come alive while getting paid and making a positive impact in the world, using sharing, co-living and personal development incubation.

What are your metrics?

  • What percentage of our monthly household expenses can we spent through the sharing economy while serving our needs better than the traditional outlets?
  • How much money can we save each month by using these sharing schemes?
  • How much money can we earn each month by putting our own resources up for hire in the sharing economy?
  • How much of our personal time can we save?
  • How much can we reduce our carbon footprint?
  • How much waste can we reduce?
  • How many new people can we meet?
  • Of these, how many become friends (people whose phone numbers we have and hang out socially at least once every two months).

What online platforms do you plan to use?

Will you also do in person or noncommercial sharing? We want to share food, work with local farms, and share food bulk purchases, as well as create a community tool library. One of the metrics is building community, so even if there is not an economic transaction, value is still being created and assessed. We like the gift economy online, because it solves the problem of the gift being invisible. It's still not quid pro quo, which leaves trust up to the individual and helps build community. Yerdle is something Ben is paying attention to. Jay says he's interested in investment with in in-kind services and is talking with Credibles.

Do you plan on having jobs? We heard rumors about people using sharing economy to take care of basic expenses and have the time to create meaningful lives. So we wondered, “How many times do we need to rent out things to cover our expenses and how far we can take it to buy a house, make a car payment, and generate income to pay for food?” We wanted to systematically applying a business model with income and expense spreadsheets and using marketing techniques. One ideas was to add a car share to AirBnb to increase attractiveness of staying with us. Jay added, “I think of it more as a way to reduce expenses and not buy things. I don't view it as a viable long-term, sole income source.”

What challenges do you anticipate? How do we bring people in while not being an elitist community, but still bringing the right people in. Part of the solution is being very clear on what we want to achieve so people self-select. When we talked with the Embassy Network about challenges, they mentioned shared values - too much becomes an elitist clique and too few won't support a functioning community. We don't want to have long consensus meetings or drama so we're trying to create a structure that's nimble, fun and not a whole other project just to live in community. In some sense, sharing economy platforms have taken risk out through design, made more sharing more efficient, built trust, created transparency... and we want to incorporate these attributes into our house model. We want to make it more easy and structured to take some decisions out of it thereby limiting meetings using some of this technology even internally, for example to share the car.

How do you see your project in relation the Bay Area? We wanted to find a place that we love, that we can afford and offers the appropriate community scale living we want and realized we had to create it. The supply for these types of living spaces is definitely less than the demand so we want make more of it through our own project and through the sharing compatible, co-living architecture project we are working on. The Bay Area is the mecca of the sharing economy, and we want to be a part of it!

The Sandbox crew has been trying to glean wisdom from more experienced sharing practioners and so asked me what advice I'd give them as they are starting out. I suggested, “Pick your tool appropriately. It's not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The level of risk, type of things shared, the people you share with and the goals you have with them should all be context for determining what tool you use and you might end up having to invent the right tool for the job.”

If you're local and this concept excites you, the Sandbox is having an open house this weekend. Or consider building a sandbox in your own home to jump in and play with sharing.

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