Co-working superstar WeWork is preparing to launch its first residential venture in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, VA - just outside of Washington DC. The project, which has taken on the unofficial names of "WeWork Residential" and “WeLive” is the renovation of an older office building into 250 micro-apartments.
What are micro-apartments? Definitions vary, but for our purposes it's easiest to say an apartment under 400 square feet. Micro-apartments are part of the growing "tiny house" movement catching on in the US. And you can get a deeper dive into micro-apartment development and culture via a look at projects in San Francisco, or the lengthy Politico piece "Scrunched in Seattle" - a look its growth in Seattle, home to the largest amount of micro-apartments in the country.
I spend most of my time on this blog discussing energy and oil depletion and most agree that urban living overall is more sustainable than suburban living. But millennials, the group most attracted to micro-apartments aren't necessarily interested in them for energy or sustainability reasons. The reason reflects what urban theorist Richard Florida discussed when he first wrote about the rise of the creative class over a decade ago.
People in my generation and younger often grew up in the suburbs and yearn for a more exciting experience in cities. They are much more concerned with living in urban environments with lots of things to do within walking distance than having lots of space. Technology helps us require less space in the first place, as our book collections exist on e-readers, our music and DVD collections now exists on hand-held external hard drives (or streaming online entirely) playable on tiny laptops or tablets. My generation is much more willing to forego space for location, and to use technology to reduce our possessions and increase remote working.
However, whenever micro-apartment projects are discussed, including this WeWork project, critics are quick to pounce. Some clearly have no desire for micro-living and question why anyone else would want to live that way. The critics are quick to throw out words like "boarding homes", "tenement housing", and "socialist dormitories" suggesting that the moment these apartments open, they will inevitably decline in quality, taking the rest of the neighborhood with them.
Cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York are already showing us that there is a strong market for micro-apartments and that they generally raise the property value around them.
What the critics miss is that the ultimate issue of micro-apartment success isn't the idea, or the building itself. It comes down to one word: Execution.
In this piece I want to take a look at what we know about the WeLive project itself, look back at some of my own apartment and housing experiences, and finally have some fun brainstorming how WeLive might change the micro-apartment game forever.
What We Know About WeLive
Before we talk about the project itself let's back up, because you might be asking "What is WeWork anyway?"
Co-working spaces are businesses where startups, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and others can rent desks or offices in sleek modern spaces. The idea is that those without an office can easily deploy themselves into a professional environment. And those who might already have offices or currently work at home can come to a place filled with a like-minded community for networking, support, or just to exchange ideas. Tech startups are the most common clients in co-working spaces, but you'll find businesses of every type from lawyers to nonprofits to writers. A specific type of co-working space called "Maker-spaces" cater specifically to small manufacturers. PonyRide in Detroit and Techshop in Detroit and DC are two examples of this type. The city of Detroit even has a collaborative beer brewing space, Brew Detroit. And a friend in DC owns EatsPlace one of the city’s food incubators (keep this idea in the back of your head – that aspiring chefs might pay to have access to professional commercial kitchens).
Co-working has taken off in major cities across the US under the brands of numerous companies, but of all of them WeWork is the leader of the pack. What Uber is to ridesharing, WeWork is to co-working.
Operating since only 2008, WeWork has grown to spaces in eight cities, across three countries, with many more on the way. Already flushed with funding cash, WeWork recently completed a new round of funding, raising an additional $355 million. It is the hottest real estate start-up in the country. According to the Wall Street Journal, WeWork is currently valued at a whopping $5 billion.
In DC, WeWork began with a single location in Chinatown, before really making a splash by expanding into the Shaw neighborhood and the recently renovated Wonder Bread Factory. Recently they opened their third location in Dupont Circle. And the WeLive project in Arlington, VA will be their fourth in the DC area.
Renting a space at WeWork isn't cheap. Running anywhere from $350 for a single "unassigned" desk, and $550 and higher for a private office. Sure, WeWork residents save tons of money on security, reception, internet, printing, and conference space - all things they would have to cover on their own in an individual office. But the real reason people open up their wallets for WeWork isn't for the free beer and cool decor, it's for the community.
- "Inside the Phenomenal Rise of WeWork" - Forbes, November 2014
Having said all that, we don't really know a lot about the WeLive project. WeWork and the developers associated with the project have been very secretive about it. But pieces of info have sneaked out in a variety of blog posts in 2014, including the latest in December from the Wall Street Journal.
We know that it is a retrofit of an older building: a vacant office building in Crystal City, a neighborhood of Arlington, VA. Crystal City is best known for having DC's Reagan National Airport directly to its east. While Crystal City is filled with office buildings, the neighborhood to its west, Pentagon City, is more residential. As the name would suggest, the Pentagon itself is to the north. And a short trip across the river from both Pentagon City and Crystal City is Washington DC. Both Pentagon City and Crystal City have subway stops for the Metrorail that travels across the river for the short trip into the District.
Crystal City is the home of numerous office towers built in another age, and some have high vacancy rates or are completely empty. In some cases, this is because government contracts dried up for specific companies and in others because companies moved their offices from the older obsolete buildings into newer buildings elsewhere in Virginia. This left the county with the problem of how to revitalize the underutilized buildings. And how to bring more life to the neighborhood in general. It led to new experiments like the newly developed MetroWay, WMATA's first experiment into dedicated bus lanes. Outreach to tech startups and entrepreneurs. And even to a new apartment experiment like this one from WeWork.
In fact, it's because of the county that we have any information on WeLive at all.
The Crystal City Business Improvement District website once had an entire page on WeLive, but weeks ago it mysteriously vanished. Luckily, another page on the site contains a short description of the project:
"With co-work and collaboration transforming the dynamics of the office marketplace, Crystal City will be home to the first residential project to incorporate the same concepts of community, shared space, and collaboration. Led by the leader in shared office space, WeWork, and Vornado/Charles E. Smith, the project will convert approximately 158,000 square feet of office space into over 250 residential units and 5,900 square feet of ground floor retail space. Consisting primarily of small, efficiency, micro-units, the project’s distribution of communal spaces, such as kitchens, living rooms, library, arcade, and indoor herb garden, brings the sharing of ideas and space beyond the work environment thereby setting the concept apart from other proposed micro-unit projects. Status/Schedule: Interior demolition is underway. Delivery is expected in 2015."
Building owner Vornado, one of the largest real estate holders in Crystal City and Pentagon City, was required to give a presentation to the county for project approval and it is there that we gain a few images and other details:
- The average floor will have 24 apartment units on the perimeter, surrounding common areas in the middle. With larger units in some areas (just twelve on the top floor).
- The top floor will feature standard sized apartments.
- UrbanTurf reports that the micro-units will come in three flavors: "studio, studio+ and studio max, along with a few two-bedrooms, 22 three-bedrooms, and 20 four-bedrooms. The different types of studios correlate to size. Studios are 300 square feet, while studio+ are larger and studio maxes top out at a comparatively massive 660 square feet."
- Each unit is designed to have its own bathroom and a kitchenette with a small refrigerator, microwave and sink, but no oven or stove.
- Every two floors looks to be part of a group called a "neighborhood" that (along with the building elevators) are connected by stairs. And each neighborhood has a commercial-grade kitchen & dining area on the bottom half and a community room on the top half.
- The community rooms on the 3rd and 11th floors are "Living rooms", the 7th floor is a "Library," the 9th floor is a "Herb Garden," and the 5th floor is an "Arcade"
It's true that there are some interesting twists in this list, but overall, a lot of it sounds like standard micro-apartments. Communal areas are novel, but not revolutionary. However, WeWork has the potential to draw on the earned experience from their co-working side to take this project to the next level.
But before I outline how, I want to tell you a few quick stories about three buildings from my past, as a way to talk about residential community.
Matters of Community
After living in the Maryland suburbs of DC for a couple years, I decided I wanted to be part of the action in the city itself. On Craigslist I was lucky to discover "The Exchange" an apartment right across the street from the DC Convention Center, right on the border between the Mt. Vernon Square neighborhood to the south and the Shaw neighborhood to the north.
Just a few years before, the building was a rotted out shell, but had been saved by Douglas Development, the group best known for owning most of DC's Chinatown around the Verizon Center (Douglas Development also renovated the Wonder Bread Building in Shaw, now WeWork DC's flagship location).
I moved into an apartment that was less than 500 square feet. It was the smallest apartment I've ever lived in, and to this day, I consider it the best apartment I've ever had.
I very quickly discovered that I really didn't NEED a lot of space. I also really enjoyed living right in the middle of the city. I was a block away from a metro station. A short walk to the south would lead me to DC's Chinatown and the Verizon Center neighborhood. A few minutes walk further south of Chinatown was the National Mall. A brisk walk to the west from my door would land me right on Connecticut Ave near K Street and its lobbyist and financial corridor to the south and the vibrant Dupont Circle neighborhood to the northwest.
The only thing the Exchange lacked was community. The building completely lacked a front desk or staff of any type. We used a key fob to gain building access and elevator access. Cleaning staff would mysteriously show up periodically. But other than that, we were pretty much on our own. The postal workers had access to the mailboxes, as did the shipping companies, who would unceremoniously leave everyone's packages right inside the main door on the first floor (it was a building-wide honor system when it came to deliveries). We were lucky enough to have a roof deck and (since I was paying for it) anytime it wasn't raining I would try to spend a little time out there each day after work, beer in hand - watching the city go by. To my surprise, I almost never saw anyone else on the roof.
The building was fairly small: it had no dedicated parking spaces that so many cities seem to require for new buildings, still a strange concept in 2015. But this was fine because the metro was right down the street and few of the residents owned automobiles (in other words if a parking space is something you needed, you probably weren't going to move into The Exchange). The first floor contained our small lobby and a bank on the other part of the floor that was not connected to our apartment complex. The second floor was offices for unknown firms. The third floor was the largest, containing eight apartments. The fourth floor only had six apartments. The fifth floor, only three apartments. And I knew that the building was mostly occupied. I just rarely saw any of the residents.
One day I figured that I wanted to meet my neighbors and I wanted to get people to use the roof deck more often, so I combined both goals, made a date for a community happy hour and printed fliers that I hung on each floor near the elevators and stairs. When the chosen day arrived, exactly one couple showed up. They were a wonderful pair of lawyers from New York who had just relocated to Washington DC. They loved the idea and were thrilled to come out (and yes, we're still friends to this day).
I wasn't too surprised that a lot of people didn't show up. Let's be honest, people move into apartments to have a place to live, not to necessarily get chummy with the neighbors. And over time I would run into many more of my neighbors in passing, many of them did remember the fliers and regretted not attending because they were busy or out of town. For the rest of my time in the Exchange, I think I was always known as "that flier guy" that tried to get his neighbors to meet.
I spent the next three years living across the river in Arlington, VA, in an apartment complex in the Pentagon City neighborhood, only about a mile from the future WeLive location. My apartment size increased slightly – to 560 sq. ft.
There were three massive apartments in the complex, each housing hundreds of families, couples, and individuals. I lived in the center apartment, which had a small park in front named for longtime resident of the building, Grace Hopper, a naval officer best remembered for her work on the COBOL computer language and the Google doodle in her honor in 2013 (in the final weeks before I moved out, I accomplished the challenge of finding her where she still rests today, in nearby Arlington National Cemetery).
Each of the buildings were 17 floors of an elevator lobby in the middle that expanded spoke-like into three different corridors per floor. Each individual corridor had almost the same number of apartments as the entire Exchange building back in DC. Even estimating conservatively, there were probably 1500 residents per building. But the interesting thing, I met fewer people in the three years at the giant complex than I did in the one year at the tiny Exchange building.
To be fair, part of this was on me. By this point, I had lived in DC for years and had my established group of friends and co-workers that I would see in the city weekly. But part of it was the buildings themselves.
The complex itself seemed almost anti-community. The long corridors seemed to promote movement. Leave your apartment - head directly to the elevator. The same was the case in the lobby, where it would seem awkward to stand and not immediately board an elevator or move towards your next destination. Outside, the narrow straight sidewalks promoted the same type of movement.
Often I was lucky enough to work from home and daily at 8:00am, the view from my window would see the army of young professionals, suited up in their DC-best, marching out into the world, most heading on the 10-minute walk to the nearby Pentagon City metro station. The pattern would repeat around 5:00pm. Worker bees along the paths returning to their housing units in an orderly fashion. You could watch this pattern for days, and rarely, if ever, see two strangers talk to each other.
I always thought of it as such a waste. A complex of near 5,000 people, without an efficient or convenient way to build community. How many people could have connected for networking opportunities? How many might be looking for a running or workout partner? How many apartment families had kids and parents who could meet with other similar families? How many people were single and never knew the person they're looking for might be a just a floor or two above them? How many people cheered for the same sports teams and never had the chance to have a gathering to watch the big game?
The average apartment complex is a giant mass of unrealized social potential.
My introduction to the power of community occurred years before, the first time I lived away from home: my freshmen year at Michigan State University.
Michigan State has a pretty large campus compared to most. All freshmen are required to live on-campus during the first year, and for the majority that means being herded into the least desirable locations.
The Brody Complex was one such location. Seated on the far northwest of campus, Brody was far away from everything. And woe to those that had an 8am class in the Chemistry building or any building far to the southeast on campus. It resulted in far too many last minute bus catches or panicked morning bike sprints on Michigan ice at suicidal speeds.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Brody Complex was a collection of six dormitories filled with mostly freshmen. And in one of those buildings, in the first room of the third floor, I moved into my first room away from home.
I actually had my first roommate - for about a week and a half. He showed up, was barely there, and somehow convinced housing to move him to another building closer to some of his high school friends. I kept the extra space in the room ready, assuming that any day housing would show up with a replacement roommate. They never did, and I ended up with a single room, at the much cheaper double room price, for my entire freshman year.
It also meant that to talk to anyone I had to get out of the room. But this wasn't a problem because up and down the hall you would find open doors and people to meet from all over the state of Michigan. To me, this was amazing. Up to that point, I had spent my entire life in the city of Detroit. And now I found myself surrounded by people from other places and other experiences. Before long I knew everyone on the floor and most of the girls on the other side of the third floor. Friendships were formed that endure to this day. Years later two of those guys were my roommates on two different occasions. I met one of my closest friends on that floor and ended up being the best man at his wedding.
Our resident assistant (RA) named Steve was a big part of this. RA's didn't get to choose which dormitories they were assigned too and Steve was a 5th-year engineering senior who had the misfortune of being shipped all the way to the Brody Complex to babysit a group of 60 freshmen. I don't think Steve had any great plans to build a strong community, I just think he just chose to be himself and the strong community was the side-effect of that. And we loved him for it.
The big thing at the time (to date myself) was the release of the Nintendo 64 (N64) game console and the big game at the time was Goldeneye 007. Six of us on the floor had a Nintendo 64. Goldeneye was a four-player game and day-after-day people would just show up in other resident's rooms, controller-in-hand, ready to kick off a new tournament. Steve was usually at the head of the line, and we often found him in other people's rooms far more than his own.
As a floor, our collective appreciation of the work Steve did was so high that at the end of the year we hatched a secret plan. One day two residents ran down the hall, knocking furiously on Steve's door. Steve answered, likely tired from studying for that week's final exams, the toughest of his life. They explained to him that there was a fight in the community room all the way on the far end of the hall. The three of them sprinted back to the community room to find all of the men of the floor there.
There was no fight. The crowd parted and we revealed a brand new Nintendo 64 for Steve. The week before we carried an envelope around to all the rooms, and with a few dollars from everyone, it wasn't long before we had the money to buy the system and a few games. It took everything Steve had to fight back the tears.
Steve's work - that floor community - had such an effect on all of us that six of us eventually became resident assistants, including me. And it's with that same luck that four years later, I found myself as a 5th-year engineering senior, an RA back in the Brody Complex with a new group of freshmen.
My efforts were not innovative; I just copied Steve's playbook. I knew that if all I did was get that group of men to talk to each other - 80% of my work was done and most problems would take care of themselves. Every day before dinner, I made sure to gather the largest crowd possible for the trip to the cafeteria, trying to make sure no one was left out. We organized teams for the basketball and flag football leagues. And every time I could, I encouraged them to enjoy that time, because you only ever get one college freshman year - something I already understood deeply. Over a decade later, I still hear from some of those residents.
I know that many have terrible memories associated with dormitories, but for me, they taught me lessons on the power of community that I've never forgotten.
Around the same time I was hanging out with Steve the RA, Harvard professor Robert Putnam was putting the finishing touches on his book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.” The book looked at the trends in social structures and that Americans now belong to fewer organizations, socialize with our families less often, know our neighbors less, have a tougher time making close friends and meet with friends we do have less frequently (Putnam reexamined the trends ten years later in a 2010 article). But the book isn’t all doom and promising a continued decline in social capital. It’s quick to point out that American civic and social life can re-invent themselves and they already did once 115 years ago at the turn of that century.
Technology and innovation are giving us the chance to attempt that re-invention again. Just in the past decade, social media has already challenged us to re-think and re-imagine our social connections, as online commerce and online dating has done the same in their fields.
Technology and innovation may also provide us a chance to finally re-think the apartment building and our neighborhood communities.
Changing the Micro-Apartment Game
Now let's tie all of this together: The physical space of WeLive, the co-working experience, and residential community.
And to be clear, ALL of this is idle speculation by me. Other than WeWork themselves, no one knows exactly what they're planning, but it's definitely fun to speculate.
For all the talk of community, I admit that I'm (and 25% of the population) a card-carrying member of the introvert club. Tiny they may be, the room is the one area to escape and recharge. And I'm curious to see how much care WeWork puts into the individual apartments. At the very top of the list: Sound Insulation. How much work will they dedicate to allowing residents to stepping away from the community on occasion? A noise-free environment is a key step.
How will WeWork tackle the issue of room furniture? Most advanced micro-apartments integrate the latest designs in hide-away beds and other space-saving furniture and storage designs. The tradeoff here is that the more of this you use, the more you deny a new resident the ability to use furniture of their own (which could also be the point if targeting younger residents who might not have a lot of furniture in the first place).
Maintenance and Cleaning
These areas shouldn't be a problem for WeWork, all of their co-working spaces are spotless. But it is worth a mention because the maintenance of a co-working space and the maintenance of an apartment building - one with high-use common areas - are very different challenges.
Running the operations well, integrating maintenance with email/apps, keeping everything spotless at all times - simple things that score huge points for everyone.
Last fall, I went on a tour of a newer DC-area apartment complex (hint) and as the leasing agent showed me around, he stopped at the first floor community room to show me the new record player they purchased. "In a couple of weeks, we're going to bring in a big collection of records," he said proudly. Yes, records. Vinyl Records.
If that story confuses you, let me confuse you even more by revealing that 2014 was the highest year for vinyl sales in around two decades. Seriously.
Yes, this is the point where the vinyl purists get mad at me, but in modern times, people buy vinyl for the same reason people buy Beats Headphones - and it's not for sound quality. It's because it's cool. Need more evidence? Consider that the largest vinyl album seller in the US isn't music stores, it's a teenage clothing store: Urban Outfitters.
There's a gap between doing something because it's cool and doing something because of a genuine appreciation for it. And you want to make sure you're on the right side of that gap. This is what scares me about the Arcade in WeLive.
I'm absolutely a child of the '80s. Part of the generation that fondly remembers gathering a stack of quarters and spending hours at the arcade. Bars are opening in urban areas around the country to tap into that nostalgia. And yes, an arcade in an apartment building is pretty cool. But there's danger if WeWork just sticks some free-play arcade cabinets in a room and considers their job done with a check of a box that says "Arcade."
The goal should always be to get as much practical use out of each community room. Sure, there should be some arcade cabinets. But some thought should also go into the "gaming community." How do you get the gamers out of their rooms and into the community room? Here is where you start thinking about big screen monitors to connect consoles, community tables for board games, and spaces for residents to temporarily connect their PCs for LAN parties. The more the Arcade is designed specifically for community interaction, the more value it will bring to residents.
In November 2014, WeWork unveiled the next phase of their world domination, a social media platform called "WeWork Commons."
It's designed to connect the like-minded individuals in WeWork's 16,000 member community across cities, across countries, and even those who don't physically occupy one of their co-working spaces.
As WIRED described it, it might be a LinkedIn you'd actually use.
Well, what if they took this same concept, and flipped it over to the residential side. Much easier said than done, of course, but imagine: What if your apartment building had a social network?
What if everyone had a profile and you used it to "meet" your neighbors? Connecting with them for professional networking and common interests? What if residents used it to post activities and community gatherings and even mundane things like inviting people to watch the game or happy hour at the bar across the street? (and yes, don't worry - your privacy and creepiness concerns can be easily dealt with using clever design)
What if WeWork used gamification to actively encourage residents to meet both virtually and in real life, and encourage participation in the community - with prizes for the top performers (see Seth's Priebatsch's TED talk for a quick intro into Gamification).
What if we used technology to make meeting and interacting with your neighbors easier than ever? Something WeWork already strives to do in their co-working spaces.
Going Home - Going to Class
When I still lived in the Pentagon City apartment, a few times a week I would walk to the grocery store, and along the way I would pass the local Sur La Table. During the evenings, the large windows would peer into the brightly lit commercial kitchen that was always filled with people taking part in their cooking classes.
To put 2 and 2 together: WeLive already has numerous commercial-grade kitchens. Why not show the residents how to gain the most value out of them. What if they hosted cooking classes?
And it doesn't have to stop there. From gardening clinics to make the full use of the herb garden, to classes in knitting, bike repair, or whatever the community is looking for.
Why not use the living rooms to host book clubs, or toastmaster meetings, or political discussion groups?
What if a key goal of the entire enterprise was to help residents improve themselves before the expiration of their lease?
About that Fitness Center
The first time I saw the tentative WeLive renderings, the first question immediately jumped to my lips: "But where's the gym?!?"
I was genuinely surprised by the omission, because here is yet another opportunity to change the game.
I've been in the fitness arena for 15 years, and there's one claim I can say as truth: every single apartment complex or hotel gym I've ever seen... has sucked.
They all follow the same template: Deploy the fitness area with as many ellipticals and treadmills as possible. And sprinkle the remaining area with strength machines, dumbbells, and maybe a cable machine.
This generation of fitness athletes have moved beyond that. They've moved beyond machines. This is the generation that CrossFits and weight lifts. They're into yoga, and dance, and parkour. They run Spartan Races and Mud Runs. They don't use treadmills, they run 5Ks outside in any weather before breakfast. They don't use stationary bikes, they do triathlons. We've entered the era of functional fitness.
What's the most important thing they need in a gym? And this may surprise you. They need SPACE. Yes, empty space to play, dance, do yoga, practice bodyweight exercises, or work on mobility and flexibility. Designers get so caught up in deploying expensive machines that they forget about leaving open the space for residents to do whatever they want.
The next important component are key pieces of functional fitness equipment. Barbells, a rack for the barbell, weight plates, kettlebells, a bar for pull-ups. A person can build a strong foundation in functional fitness with just these key pieces of equipment. Rogue Fitness, a popular fitness equipment manufacturer, even offers turnkey solutions for projects such as this. And Rogue Fitness as well as their competitor, Again Faster, are great consultants to bring in and help design an apartment gym such as this.
And if there's a question of how residents will learn how to use the equipment, the answer has been said a few times already: Periodically bring in trainers to teach residents quick courses in the basics. Then trust that the residents can handle training on their own, just like one would trust the residents to handle sharp knives or gas grills in community kitchens.
Why would this be such a game-changer?
Rogue Fitness has a commercial called "Street Parking" and the joke is that some homeowners love their garage-based gyms so much that they've permanently banished their cars from the garages forever. But what if you don't have a home? What if there were garage gyms for people that don't have garages, people that live in apartment communities?
Amenities help dictate which residents are attracted to a community, the same way it works in WeWork co-working spaces.
And it'll already happen in WeLive. Impressive commercial kitchens and a fresh herb garden will absolutely attract chefs. A well-designed arcade will absolutely attract gamers. And a well-designed gym will absolutely attract that community.
Imagine if you combined the interest-pairing ability of Meetup.com with the space and community functions of WeWork. In fact, you don't have to imagine it because another organization has beaten WeWork to the punch. Krash is a company that provides cohousing in residential homes built to create an immersive live/work environment for entrepreneurs.
And this is just the beginning of niche living arrangements because we can now combine the community building power of the internet and the fact that people with similar interests like to spend time together.
You'll start seeing "CrossFit houses" with impressive home gyms in the basements and a community of residents all dedicated to their fitness and nutrition goals. And residential arrangements for many other types of interests. People in the sharing economy are more than comfortable with the idea of building community and space around the theme of entrepreneurship and small business development. But this can expand beyond the business world as well.
WeLive could be part of the shift towards this movement.
The building doesn't have to have a gym, but it'll be a shame if it doesn't.
Other Amenities and Outdoor Spaces
Outdoor space is a key part of the Tiny House movement, and there's really only one outdoor space WeLive has access too, and it's one we don't know anything about: The Roof.
Will there even be an open accessible roof? Grilling areas? Summertime community gatherings? All unknown at the moment.
And I haven't even discussed the outdoor exterior spaces on the first floor or the expected first floor retail. Not to mention the single place where most apartment residents tend to interact the most - how can we re-imagine: the Laundry Room?
Membership and Price Rationing
Washington DC-based startup incubator "1776" has experienced tremendous growth since its founding in February 2013, including visits from the President of the United States and the British Prime Minister.
And like WeWork, memberships have the highest level set at $600/month. But in the case of both, just because you show up with a bunch of cash for membership fees, does not mean you'll automatically get in.
The 1776 membership application asks about your start-up company, its industry, and for a company website or demo. Intentional or not, the image projected is that to get in you need to fit within the design of everyone in the community: aspiring start-up founders and employees.
The image projected is that they're selective. And WeWork is the same.
But it's one thing to be selective about the membership of your co-working space, and another thing to be selective about the residents of an apartment building. There's a very thin line between selecting residents that would help form the best community and rejecting people unfairly.
Here WeLive will have to navigate a very dangerous path, and it'll be interesting to see how they go about it. Will they try to promote to younger residents over older residents? What will they say about families or pets?
The same can be said about price. The price point will be a very direct statement on who WeWork hopes to draw. The question of price to some isn't just a big deal, it is THE deal. And many might make the assumption that microapartments with lower square foot rooms might lead to lower rent costs. But that's not necessarily the case.
Only one source has any mention of prices for WeLive, and you should assume that this figure is very early and very wrong. But for the sake of discussion, the number listed is $24.77/sqft. Some DC residents would look at those prices as too high for the space and the living arrangements. Some would look at those prices as a steal compared to average DC rental prices. And one has to consider the common areas and utilities, which might not be part of the room rate officially, but are things the residents pay for collectively. The final prices could easily be dramatically higher.
WeWork isn't new to this. But these areas are critical, and a misstep on membership preferences and prices could lead to trouble.
The critics could be right, WeLive could turn out to be a disaster, a 20-something fiasco that more closely resembles a rowdy frat house than an urban professional community.
Blogger David Friedlander summarizes it well:
“Many people talk about how their college days living in dorm rooms were some of their happiest. WeLive seems to be taking many of the elements of that life–tight geography, small rooms that push you into large social areas–and bring it to adult populations. Whether this will result in world class innovation or world class beer pong (or both) remains to be seen, but we think it’s a great experiment nonetheless and look forward to seeing how it turns out.”
The only things separating success and failure in this venture are creative thinking and execution. These are the qualities that will determine if this is a regretful experiment, or something that revolutionizes how we think about urban living.
In the end, it all comes down to a single question: "What if someone designed an apartment complex where community was the primary goal?"