5 Alternatives to the Buy vs Rent Question


When we talk about housing, in North America the discussion almost always comes down to 1) own a house in the 'burbs or 2) rent an apartment in the city. One commentator at Bloomberg wrote:

"With gasoline at $4-plus a gallon, lots of thinking people see the U.S. undergoing a vast demographic shift, with millions of people moving back to cities. The suburbs, and those places beyond the suburbs, the exurbs, will dry up and blow away.

The notion appeals especially to people who like to think they'll be in charge after the revolution. They would apparently love nothing more than for the population to be confined to Soviet-style concrete-block high-rises and be forced to take state-run streetcars to their little jobs at the mill. "

It is in fact not so black and white; there is a range of shades in between. There is, of course, condominium ownership, but also many other models of tenure and design that we just don't think of as conventional in North America but are popular in Europe.

Co-operative Ownership

In Freiburg, Germany, the co-op model is common. They say that co-ops "are the fertile ground for a stable district's community and rise of ecological awareness"- everyone has to work together, they even have "muscle mortgages" where you work toward your ownership of the unit.


Design to create shared space

In both IKEA's BoKlok and Freiburg, the designers could have built townhouses with tiny front and back yards in the North American model, but they didn't. They encourage interaction by making all the outdoor space public.


If you want a garden you can have one, but it is in common space, as are the play areas, all designed to make the occupants feel part of a community.


Apartments Don't have to be Towers

At Jubilee Wharf, "The maisonettes are a delight. Warm and cosy, each boasts what would once have been called a "sun lounge", an enclosed suntrap that retains whatever heat comes in through the living room windows looking out over the estuary.


Eastern Village, Silver Spring
Cohousing is "a way for a group of people to work together to develop places to live that offer both privacy and community"

One cohousing project for Brooklyn says "Our vision is to create an oasis of community amid the swirling intensity of New York City, and an antidote to the isolation and impersonality of contemporary life....The building(s) will be designed to facilitate community life while at the same time protecting people's ability to opt for privacy or sociability as desired. This will be the kind of place where neighbors help each other out, where daily life is easier and more satisfying than it would be otherwise – a supportive home environment for people engaged with the city at large."


And it doesn't have to be in the Big City
Nubanusit Neighbourhood and Farm has a mix of renewable energy ready and energy efficiently designed residences. The 29 total units include 7 single-family homes, 7 duplex units, and 2 quad units on a total of 5 acres.

It's Not Either/Or

The discussion does not have to be framed in terms of suburb or city. There are so many options that can be explored to build in different ways with different forms of tenure. We should be looking at them all.

More reading:
Beddington Zero Energy Development
Ikea Village Without the Allen Key
Solar Village by Rolf Disch
How to Build a Green, Car-free Community: Vauban
Jubilee Wharf: The Greenest Housing in Britain?
Green Co-Housing Community Development In Nubanusit
Cohousing for Gen X and Y
Cohousing for Aging Boomers
On Home Ownership:
Is Home Ownership a Good Thing?
Paul Krugman on Home Ownership

5 Alternatives to the Buy vs Rent Question
When we talk about housing, in North America the discussion almost always comes down to 1) own a house in the 'burbs or 2) rent an apartment in the city. One commentator at Bloomberg wrote: