Transdisciplinary Design

Student Housing isn’t perfect, but..

Posted on October 7, 2011 | posted by:

It sure encompasses a sharing based community.

We hear this everywhere yet we barely understand it. “Share”. “Use, not own”. Simple words that could really change the way we experience living. But what does this really mean? How do we start implementing this philosophy? I personally got immersed in this concept by accident but until I read John Thakara’s book, In the Bubble, I never fully understood this.

When I first arrived in New York, about two months ago, I didn’t know what to expect from the student housing. Coming from a country like Mexico where I always had my own room, my own car and basically my own everything, I found myself threatened by the idea of having roommates and common areas. As it turns out, not only has it been a wonderful experience but also (according to authors like Thakara) this shared living experience may be one of the many solutions to our current waste, financial and ecological issues.

It all comes down to “product-service systems”. This means having access to products, tools, opportunities and capabilities without having to own them (Thakara, In the Bubble, pg 19, 2005). In other words, using it when you need it and giving it back when you are done. The student housing is a perfect example for this kind of systems. Much of what you have here is not really yours but you can use it when you need it. You sleep on a borrowed bed and watch TV in a common lounge. It is a service the university provides where students are offered a space in which to live and work without having to worry about buying things like furniture or kitchen utensils.

I experienced this “use not own” system the very first night I arrived. My flight had been delayed in Norfolk for 8 hours due to a thunderstorm and I ended up checking in around 2 am, exhausted and stressed. As I was filling in the forms I realized I didn’t have a pillow and couldn’t exactly go buy one until the next day. After telling the RA my problem, she kindly let me borrow an extra pillow they had in the office for this type of emergencies. After a few days I got settled and I decided to try my cooking skills only to remember that I didn’t have any pots and pans. I was about to go shopping when I saw a sign on the message board outside my room saying we could “check out” tools, pans, movies and almost anything else you might need from the office and then give them back once we were done. I was impressed, this system is not only convenient but it saves you time and money.

We are starting to see more and more examples of this type of service based business. Websites like Shareable are fostering this type of thinking while programs like Bike Share in New York and Washington DC are transforming the way we move around the city. Could this model actually be the first step into a new form of society or a new way of looking at the world?