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We are ecstatic to share with you the interview we had with Vitalija Danivska, Postdoctoral Researcher in Real Estate Economics at Aalto University and one of the most energetic and brightest minds when it comes to the Finnish real estate and building environment! Warm welcome to read her thoughts on an ideal coliving space, differences between Finland and other coliving metropolis, and why not get caught in the good vibes of Lithuania’s Eurovision 2020 song along the way?! Let’s go!


We tend to define ourselves by our jobs a bit too much. So, can you introduce yourself without speaking of work? What do you love? What inspires you?

Haha, this is indeed a hard one as I consider my work to be kind of my hobby too! But if we need to skip it… I am an activist (or an active member of the society), hoping to put my 5 cents into making this world a better place. A lot of my time goes to helping out my birth country – Lithuania. I am actively involved in multiple organizations and associations such as the Global Lithuanian Leaders’ network, the professional mentorship programme LT Big Brother, the Finnish-Lithuanian Trade association, etc. I have organized various events in Finland too to introduce Lithuania, its people and culture to Finnish society. Hopefully that creates a better image of us around the world.
Besides that, I am passionate about dance and music: I have graduated from a music school, sang for half of my life but now all this has turned into dance. I’ve be“The Castle” in Stockholm but I think it very much represents the spirit of community en dancing Argentine tango for over a decade (with breaks), and I enjoy multiple other dances from Latin to various African dances.


Cool! Now we can talk a bit about work: what have you been working on recently? 

This is indeed a very interesting time for us, researchers. Lots of things going on and we see a lot of opportunities for change after this lockdown and crisis eases up. It felt that suddenly everyone got interested in offices, their designs, services, etc. (which I have been studying for many years) and also interested in what academics have to say.
For one, it is a global experiment of remote work. Researchers have been talking about new ways of working for around twenty years now but practice/people were hesitant to introduce it. And now basically overnight most of the people needed to learn to work from home. I have high hopes that this change is here to stay (with modifications). Therefore, from my vantage point, I feel like my task is to share the knowledge that has been collected through the years and make the transitions in practice easier and better. So, in the short term, hoping to have a research paper about operational FM services soon and helping out with multiple webinars by different organizations.  In the long term, we are intensively preparing a book which hopefully will be out next year. It will dive deep into the field of real estate management and hopefully will be useful not only for researchers but also for professionals in practice. Also, this global pandemic and lockdown will have an effect on how cities and buildings are planned, how we use technology to make sure buildings are safe and healthy and suitable for the people and the activities in them. Therefore, we have been actively working on creating project proposals to study these issues. My hopes are that we will not go back to the old ‘normal’ after this crisis but will think of new and better ways to function in the future.
P.S. and no, I don’t think offices will disappear but I do see a lot (even more) of potential in coliving!


Now, let’s have a bit of fun. Say you are living in one of the many coliving spaces (hopefully soon) available in Finland:

  • What song will you be blasting to the whole building?
    Haha, well, now I am thinking about corona lockdown songs and this is my best-mood charge: https://youtu.be/gYkACVDFmeg [Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive (1978)!]
    And also: I would introduce everyone to Lithuania’s Eurovision 2020 song! For the first time in history, we had a chance to win (it won all the fan-competitions) but Eurovision got cancelled! The dance is so catchy: https://youtu.be/FxPm-Wz8qpY [The Roop – On Fire]
  • What movie would you watch over and over again in the mini movie theater?
    I’d binge-watch Friends, The Office (US), Vikings. Then probably LOTR, Wall-e, Forrest Gump, The Pianist (it seems I like sad/dark movies).
  • What food will you teach others to cook?
    I am super good at baking! So lots of various cakes, buns, desserts, etc. From normal food: cold PINK soup https://images.app.goo.gl/fwaW1ki5EWkvt5Q78) 🙂
  • And then what book would you donate to the building’s library? I have quite a selection of books that I like to re-read and those could be shared. First ones to come to my mind e.g. Little Prince (A. de Saint-Exupéry), Jonathan Livingston Seagull (R. Bach) and the newest one: Everything is F*ed. A book about Hope (M. Manson).


How would your ideal coliving community look like?

Ideally, I would see a coliving community as an extended family. During this lockdown, everyone could witness how important the environment where we live, work, spend most of our time is. And not only related to physical health but also mental health. There will be long-term consequences for many different groups. In Finland, we have a lot of single-person households who for sure suffered from loneliness and coliving could potentially address the issue related to social wellbeing. Moreover, simple tasks (if one is sick) such as getting your food, making your food, etc. become extremely difficult and the community could step in to help. Another issue: the possibility to change your environment. Common areas and being able to use more (and different kinds of) spaces is important. How long can one operate if locked in a studio apartment where s/he has only a bed and a small table? Not that long, if you need to do EVERYTHING in the same area. Coliving concepts, ideally, would have different spaces to hang around, move (sports), work (some desks), etc. One can create its own routine within one building but outside of its own small personal space. And if we think about, e.g. US cases where people do not even have kitchens in their houses, then these kinds of things become even more important.

So summarizing, my ideal coliving environment would have: private space for own living, common spaces to be used, including lounge areas, sport/exercising areas; and the most important: a strong community to socialize. I do not discuss business side or legal issues here – that would require another (long) interview/blog/live discussion on it 🙂

“The Castle”, in Stockholm, a space that represents the spirit of community for Vitalija

 


Is the Finnish Built (corporate) Environment ready for coliving?

Communal living, generally speaking, is not a new idea: people have been living in various forms of communal housing for a long time. However, historically it was related to the need to provide (cheaper) housing for a lot of people: housing for workers, student housing, housing for elderly people, etc. Therefore, there is a negative feeling attached to it and it might slow down the demand for coliving.

Without a demand, there won’t be a supply. And Finnish people value their privacy and own space, and therefore, might be hesitant to try out coliving.

Another issue that I would see is how companies (or the whole supply chain) run their businesses. Building a simple small-apartment building with more communal spaces and calling it a coliving is not a good idea. There needs to be more collaboration and new business models, so a high level of coliving spaces can be provided.

Shortly, in my opinion, there are two issues to be dealt with. First, making sure there is a demand for it (really in-depth studies for potential users, etc) and second, developing an ecosystem of ready-to-take-a-risk-and-do-something-new companies who would learn to work together in a new way to provide the best possible outcome (so we wouldn’t end up with cheap(er) communal housing projects). And I cannot simply say ready or not. The Finnish built environment sector might be readier than other countries but, at the same time, it is a conservative sector, so every change takes time. However, I try to be optimistic and believe we have the right mindset to make it happen. But the demand will show…


How do you think coliving, as understood in other areas (West-coast USA, Paris, etc.) needs to adjust to Finnish values and habits?
 

We need to remember that we live in a much smaller country and smaller cities compared to your listed ones. Therefore, the problems are not that intense either.

  • Even though the apartments might be small in the city center, they still are (fully) equipped and more or less affordable. We do not have the problem as in the West-coast USA where a decent-wage earning engineer would not be able to afford living by him/herself in the city. We do not have that bad of a lack of housing, compared to these mega cities.
  • More balanced affordability and rent vs buy decision. In Finland, a lot of people decide to buy their own properties due to several reasons: quite a steady increase of property prices and faster increase of rent prices, low interest rates, and security feeling. Here, a bigger population size can afford to buy compared to other listed places.
  • Also, not that many people commute to work for hours one-way and then do the same in the evening, and do that five days per week. Accessibility is extremely good in Helsinki!
  • Culturally, Finnish society values privacy more than in some other countries. Therefore, the willingness to give up own space and increase social contact might be less attractive. However, this lockdown might have a long-term effect here.

With these listed, it is important to think carefully about: where to build it (where is your target group, where they [the target group] work, what they like to do, how is the housing situation around that area, etc.), how to build (what is around/neighborhood level and how to balance between privacy and community), and how to price it (can you make sure their decision-making, e.g. rent vs own can be affected).


As a teacher of real estate economics: how should study programs present/adopt new living arrangements? Are they even taken into consideration?

Well, there are multiple issues that are in a way already addressed but maybe not in that straight-forward way as one could imagine. Students learn urban economics, housing economics, theories that affect processes, they study real estate law, etc. Maybe sometimes students (and teachers) do not make the explicit connection to current issues.
And also, sustainability! I think all our programs emphasize sustainability issues a lot and the new generation will demand for (everything) being sustainable. However, they are not in decision-making positions, thus, it might take some time until it is changed in practice.

One thing that I would hope for is more emphasis on behavioral aspects, more learnings from, e.g. psychology and similar fields to real estate studies. To understand that it is about people after all. Sometimes I feel that students (and us, teachers) forget that behind those numbers, processes, prices etc. there are people. This is transferred to the industry and the needed changes are again slow to be made. It would help make more sense about why coliving (and coworking) solutions appear and what problems they actually should solve.
Another development area (which is improving already) is more inter- and multidisciplinary teaching and learning for becoming more collaborative, creative, and expanding own understanding.


This was inspiring and so insightful, thank you! Any final thought for us to keep building a better coliving environment in Finland?

Why not a general shout out? I do believe that by working together, industry and academy, we can achieve better results and advance the understanding on both sides. One way of doing this is through collaborative research projects, therefore, industry connections are very welcome.

 

You can find Vitalija on LinkedIn and Twitter. She is also an amazing speaker and consultant: don’t miss the chance to have her energy and input in any of your projects!